A new study challenges the widely-held belief that running can lead to hip or knee osteoarthritis, a condition that affects over 32 million Americans. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that causes pain, stiffness, and disability as cartilage cushioning the bones wears down. Once it is damaged, cartilage cannot regenerate.
The study, conducted by Northwestern University and presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ annual meeting, surveyed 3,804 recreational runners who participated in the Chicago Marathon in 2019 or 2021. Participants were asked about their running habits, including how long they had been running, their average pace, and whether they had a family history of arthritis.
Surprisingly, the researchers found no correlation between running frequency, distance, or speed, and a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis in the hip or knee. The study included runners with a wide range of weekly mileages, ages, and cumulative years spent running. The results could apply to average runners who never get close to marathon-level distance, the researchers said.
“Runners should be encouraged by our results,” said Dr. Vehniah Tjong, an orthopedic sports surgeon and co-author of the study. “They refute the current dogma that long-distance running predisposes an individual to arthritis of the hip and knee.”
However, nearly a quarter of all surveyed runners reported being advised by their doctors to reduce their mileage or stop running altogether, indicating that the “wear-and-tear” mentality around osteoarthritis still prevails among some doctors.
Jeffrey Driban, an osteoarthritis researcher at Tufts University who was not involved in the study, noted that running can actually benefit joint health by improving muscle function around the joints and encouraging the body to produce more synovial fluid, a liquid that lubricates the joints.
While running cannot prevent age or family history-related risk factors for osteoarthritis, it can help prevent health conditions such as heart disease and obesity, which are linked to an increased risk of developing the disease.
In conclusion, the study challenges the notion that running causes osteoarthritis and encourages runners to continue the activity they love.