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Does running cause arthritis?

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A common assumption of most athletes and non-athletes is that running leads to knee osteoarthritis(OA).   The joints can’t tolerate the constant pounding of running.

FALSE!  A study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine 2008 August 35(2): 133-138 shows evidence that this may not be true.  In this study researchers looked at 45 runners and 53 non-runners over 20 years to see if there was greater osteoarthritis in the runners group.  Considerations in the study were made for age, gender, body mass index (BMI), education, initial radiographic studies and surveys on function.  Surprisingly the runners groups did not have greater osteoarthritis than the non-runners. A review of other research also shows that running does not cause osteoarthritis at the knees, though other factors such as high BMI that increase the chance.   Runners with lower BMI significantly decrease risk of developing or aggravating osteoarthritis in the knee.

My general recommendations for runners with concerns about developing arthritis (or simply being injured) are:

  • Get clearance from your physician to start a running program. If you have osteoarthritis, stop running. Most studies show you will accelerate the cartilage damage if you continue to run.
  • Get appropriate gear.
    • Purchase a running shoe based on your foot type (i.e. supinator “high arch” or pronator “flat feet”).
    • Purchase a pedometer and change footwear every 500 miles
  • Keep track of your training
    • Begin on local track or easily available treadmill. Don’t make it harder than necessary to keep to your training schedule.
    • Start a training log–Log miles; don’t increase mileage more than 10%/week based on running 3x/week.
  • Use wise training/running technique
    • Use technique recommended by a running coach (ie P.O.S.E. method).  A good resource for the POSE method can be found at http://www.posetech.com.    In general, increase your foot strike frequency and practice leaning forward at ankles to facilitate a midfoot strike.
    • Get an injury prevention screen by a physical therapist to identify poor movement patterns, strength deficits and range of motion restrictions.
    • Cross train by breaking up days running with biking, swimming, elliptical, strength training, and stretching programs.
    • Embrace an anti-inflammatory diet (ie. beets, nuts, whole grains, dark leafy, ginger, turmeric, etc)

Best of luck starting or improving a running program!

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