I often hear from people “Well I have always run so that is probably why my knees (or hips) have worn out”. But does running cause osteoarthritis or is there something else at play here?
This is a very good article published in the Bulletin in Oregon on does running cause osteoarthritis. In it Christie Aschwanden of The Washington Post explains that, in fact, the more you run the LESS likely it is you will get osteoarthritis in your knees. She quotes Alex Hutchinson, a science journalist who says
“People think the joint is just a static, inert hinge that wears down, but it’s actually a dynamic, living thing that can respond to stress and adapt and get stronger,” he says. Rather than wear down cartilage and other joint tissue, running appears to strengthen them.”
I agree joints are designed to be used and if you don’t the muscles, tendons and ligaments around them then they simply stiffen up and become weak.
This leads to two problems:
1. The joint becomes dysfunctional as usually one side of the soft tissue will weaken more than the other. This means the two ends of the bone don’t align correctly causing increased pressure through that part of the joint which wears. Over time you get osteoarthritis.
2. Cartilage has no blood supply so it gets it’s nutrients from the synovial fluid in the joint. The more you squish it around the more nutrients the cartilage gets so the healthier it will be.
So yes I agree running does not cause OA. However running carrying an injury will certainly increase your risk of it. When you have an injury your body will change the way you run so you don’t further injure the joint more. This leads to altered function which will lead to the same problem described above. It is imperative you rest, get treatment from an physical therapist and rehab properly, even from minor injuries.
Click here to read about how I believe the most common cause of osteoarthritis is previously injured joints that never healed properly and explodes the myth does running cause osteoarthritis.
That Answers Does Running Cause Osteoarthritis But Does Running Increase the Wear Once I Have OA?
The answer is probably yes. When you have osteoarthritis your joint changes shape as the cartilage wears down. If you run on this you will be effectively running on an injured joint and I have already discussed why that is bad.
The other big problem is that running will aggravate the symptoms you suffer. Even with mild OA your muscles, tendons and ligaments are under strain so they are inflamed. Obviously running on inflamed soft tissue increases inflammation which will increase the amount of pain you suffer. You will suffer less changing to a low impact form of exercise.
However it is imperative you do keep exercising, both cardiovascular for general health and also doing exercises specifically for your worn joint.
At the start I explained that if soft tissue isn’t used it stiffens up and becomes weak. These are common symptoms of OA. To stop the stiffness you must do stretching exercises which will improve flexibility and then do strengthening exercises to improve the scaffolding around the worn joint to support and protect it.
I hope that answers the question does running cause osteoarthritis and also should you carry on running when you have been diagnosed with OA.
Please click on this link for more information on exercises for OA.