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Does running cause arthritis?

Does running cause arthritis? This is a common question I get along with other similar variations such as:

-Should I quit running due to my pain?

-Will I need a joint replacement if I continue running?

-Is it okay for me to start running in my 40s + when I have never really ran before?

 

All of these questions can be answered with an “it depends”. Because it does depend on a lot of factors such as your age, goals, previous activity level, tolerance to movement, current state of joint health and muscular strength, mobility, and more.

 

First though, what is arthritis? Arthritis, fully known as osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint condition where the tissue in the joint gradually wears down over time. It can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, poor mobility, and a generally decreased quality of life over time.

While this sounds pretty horrible, the good news is that osteoarthritis is NORMAL and can be treated successfully both conservatively and with surgery for those who need it.


Back to the question: does running cause arthritis?


A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis called The Association of Recreational and Competitive Running with Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis can help us answer that question.


The researchers reviewed many studies to understand if different types of running – recreational (for fun) and competitive (for races) – have different effects on the joints.

 

Here are the main findings:

 

1. Recreational Running:

   - People who run for fun, like jogging a few times a week, have a lower chance of getting hip and knee osteoarthritis compared to those who don’t run at all. Recreational running seems to be good for joint health because it keeps the joints active and moving without putting too much stress on them.

 

2. Competitive Running:

   - Competitive runners, who train hard and often for races, have a higher chance of developing hip and knee osteoarthritis. This might be because of the intense and frequent stress they put on their joints. The high impact from running long distances or very fast can wear down the cartilage in the joints over time.

 

3. Not Running:

   - People who do not run have a higher risk of getting osteoarthritis than recreational runners but a lower risk than competitive runners. This suggests that some running can be protective for the joints, but too much can be harmful.

 

The conclusion of the article is that running for fun is generally safe and beneficial for joint health. However, running too hard and too often, like in competitive running, can increase the risk of osteoarthritis in the hips and knees while not running at all puts one at a higher risk of arthritis than someone who runs for fun.


A photo of multiple runners from the thighs down


My usual recommendations are based on an honest take of my patient’s goals and their current health status. If I have a 55-year-old woman who tells me she doesn't feel compelled to continue running but she wants to do everything she can do avoid a knee replacement, then stopping her competitive running and mixing in more cycling/swimming/rowing/etc. would be smart. However, if I have a 35-year-old mom who tells me she NEEDS to run for her mental health, then we are going to figure out the best ways to make this happen. It’s all a about working with someone to help you create a personalized plan to get you to your goals.

 

I hope this was helpful and as always, you can contact me with any question. If you're in Asheville or the surrounding areas, I encourage you to set up a call with me so we can learn more about each other!

 

Cheers,

Dr. Sieara Hinshaw

828-808-3704

 

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