One of the popular misconceptions out there, amongst runners and non-runners alike, is that running wears out your joints – and that by racking up the kilometres, runners are setting themselves up for arthritis and knee problems down the track.
But is that really the case?
This is something that has been studied in-depth by many researchers over the years, and in fact all of the available evidence actually suggests the opposite: that runners generally have less joint wear & tear than non-runners, and, as the years roll on, older runners are actually healthier and in better joint health than non-runners.
The knee joint has been where most of the research looking into running and arthritis has been focused, with the overwhelming majority of studies having failed to find a link between running and osteoarthritis.
In fact, most studies showed that runners were actually less likely to have osteoarthritis than non-runners, and better knee health over time.
Rather than straight-line running, it seems that a greater risk of knee osteoarthritis exists with direction-change sports such as soccer, football and netball – with one study finding that soccer players were 5 times more likely to get knee OA than runners.
Whilst the research doesn’t go so far as to say that running will protect against osteoarthritis, the overwhelming majority concludes that it is not something that will increase your risk of it. That’s not to say that you should be going out and running an ultra-marathon every day though – extreme amounts will no doubt be riskier, as excess load of anything will tip the scales in favour of joint wear rather than joint repair – but for most of us, our normal running loads will likely be a good thing rather than a bad thing for our long-term knee health.
So, when someone tells you that you’re doing terrible things to your joints by running – you can tell them that’s not the case at all!
Hansen, et al. (2012). Does running cause osteoarthritis in the hip or knee? PM & R: The Journal of Injury, Function & Rehabilitation, 4(5 Suppl.), S117-S12. Willick & Hansen, (2010). Running and osteoarthritis. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 29(3), 417-428.
Chakravarty, et al. (2008). Long distance running and knee osteoarthritis: a prospective study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 35(2), 133-138.
Chakravarty, et al. (2008). Reduced disability and mortality among aging runners: a 21-year longitudinal study. Archives of Internal Medicine, 168(15), 1638-1646.
Kujala, et al. (1995). Knee osteoarthritis in former runners, soccer players, weight lifters, and shooters. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 38(4), 539-546.
Miller, et al. (2014). Why don’t most runners get knee osteoarthritis? A case for per-unit-distance loads. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46(3), 572-579.