No, Running Does Not Increase the Risk of Arthritis

Results from a large survey of marathon runners found no association between cumulative running history and the risk for arthritis.

Running is a popular exercise that offers several health benefits. For example, it increases cardiovascular fitness, strengthens bones and muscles, and can help a person maintain a healthy weight.

However, with pros come the cons. Runners can experience joint pain and injuries involving the hips, knees, and ankles. Running can also lead to conditions such as shin splints.

Still, opinions are mixed, even among healthcare providers, on whether running causes or increases the risk of arthritis.

Now, a new prospective cohort study presented on March 7 at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) found no links between running and an increased risk of arthritis.

The study surveyed 3,804 people registered for the 2019 and 2021 Chicago Marathons. The participant’s average age was 43.9, with a running history of 14.7 years. In addition, the respondents indicated they had participated in an average of five or fewer marathons.

The scientists also collected the runner’s demographic information, running history, and hip and knee health status.

After analyzing the data, the research team found that 7.3% of the participants had hip or knee arthritis.

However, the number of years a person ran, the number of marathons completed, weekly running mileage, and average running pace were not significant risk factors for the development of arthritis. Instead, previous hip or knee injuries or surgery, advancing age, family history, and BMI were the primary risk factors for joint degeneration.

"Despite growing knowledge that running and being active can be healthy for your joints, there is a continued dogma among the healthcare community that patients should stop running to avoid wearing out their cartilage," says lead author Matthew J. Hartwell, M.D., an orthopaedic surgery sports medicine fellow at the University of California San Francisco, in a news release.

"In fact, our survey showed that one in four people have received a recommendation by their physician to reduce their running volume, and for those with arthritis, nearly 50% of runners were told by their physicians to stop running altogether," Hartwell adds.

The scientists hope these findings enlighten healthcare providers so they will refrain from instinctively advising their patients against running and instead work together to meet their health and exercise needs.

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