Run away from knee arthritis
Running away from knee arthritis
Do you want to significantly reduce the chances of developing knee arthritis in your lifetime? The answer to this question is usually a resounding ‘yes’, however what for some may be more surprising is the method by which you can do so; running! That’s right, despite the common misconception out there that ‘running will ruin your knees’, the available evidence actually indicates quite the opposite.
This isn’t particularly new news (though the misconception regularly lingers) with a large number of studies over many years demonstrating a reduced incidence of knee osteoarthritis (OA) in regular runners compared to the general population. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects the joint cartilage and can also be considered natural ‘wear and tear’ of the joint. In one long term study from Stanford University, researches have been monitoring 45 runners and 53 non-runners for signs of knee OA since 1984. Their latest results, appearing in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, demonstrate that 32% of the non-runners developed increased signs of knee OA while just 20% of the running group had done so.
One possible issue with this and other studies, however, is something called ‘selection bias’- perhaps the runners studied are a particular sub-group of the population that are not prone to damaging their knees while running and therefore drawn to the sport. A recent multi-centre study by a team in the USA called the Osteoarthritis Initiative[ii] has attempted to address this by intentionally recruiting their subjects from the general community rather than an elite running background. They concluded that ‘non-elite running at any time in life does not appear detrimental and may be protective of OA’. One key factor that is thought to reduce knee OA in runners is their, on average, lower body mass index- another great reason to run! This study even accounted for this, demonstrating that in two people with the same BMI, the runner would be less likely to develop knee OA than the non-runner.
Now knowing all this is still not to say that running is for absolutely everybody and there are, indeed, some people for whom running may be detrimental. This is where a good physiotherapist is well placed to advise you on an individual basis. However, next time you are sitting around the dinner table and that non-runner asks you if you’re concerned about the damage running may be doing to your knees, you can re-assure both them and yourself that, along with the multitude of other benefits from running, the opposite in fact may be the case!
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Division of Immunology and Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, California
[ii] Habitual Running Any Time in Life Is Not Detrimental and May be Protective of Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis: Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative
Grace H. Lo1, Jeffrey B. Driban2, Andrea Kriska3, Kristi Storti3, Timothy E. McAlindon4, Richard Souza5, Charles B. Eaton6, Nancy J. Petersen7 and Maria E. Suarez-Almazor8, 1VA HSR&D Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety; Medical Care Line and Research Care Line; Department of Medicine, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, 2Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA,3University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 4Division of Rheumatology, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA, 5University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 6Family Medicine, Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, Pawtucket, RI, 7Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, 8The Department of General Internal Medicine, The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX