As a runner, I have been told by friends or family that running will “wear out your joints,” that “it causes osteoarthritis,” and that it “is bad for your knees.” Although most of these comments were few and far between, they stuck with me. Since becoming a physical therapist, I started to hear comments like this more frequently. However, this does not line up exactly with my understanding of the human body and how it responds to various stimuli. So I explored the question: Does running cause arthritis and should I be worried?
It turns out the answer is not as simple as these statements and research shows. The percent of recreational runners who had knee or hip osteoarthritis was only 3.5%. These recreational runners were those who have participated in running for 15 years or more. The amount of weekly miles varied depending on the study, but overall were less than 50 miles per week. Competitive runners on the other hand, who ran more than 57 miles per week were found to have a risk of 13.3% for hip and knee osteoarthritis. The study also showed for an average individual who is not very active, the risk is 10.2%.1, 2, 3 What do these numbers mean though?
Recreational runners like myself, are less likely to have arthritis in our hips or knees. So what about those who are further distance runners (classified as competitive), how bad is this risk? The percentage difference between couch potatoes and distance runners is fairly slight. So, should we worry at all? The health benefits and enjoyment of running 57+ miles per week outweigh the risk, providing both physical and psychological benefits to these competitive runners. This is certainly better than little to no exercise and a sedentary lifestyle that we already know can contribute to the development of unhealthy habits and health conditions. Moreover, a study in SPINE in 2005 showed little to no correlation between arthritis and pain4. This was supported by numerous studies of healthy pain-free individuals, which had found imaging results for knee arthritis in healthy, pain-free people 4-14% of the time in those under the age of 40 and 19-43% over the age of 405. This is part of a larger re-examination healthcare has been doing over the last 30 years to study how we understand pain and imaging.
So the answer is keep running. Whether you prefer short or long distances, don’t fret about wearing out your joints as you are doing more good for your body and mind than not. If you are experiencing pain while you run, check out this list of ten common running injuries you may have. If pain persists, schedule a free assessment with one of our experts. Appointments are available in-clinic and virtually through our telehealth services.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Alentorn-Geli E, et al. The Association of Recreational and Competitive Running With Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JOSPT. 2017:47(6)
2. Driben J, et al. Is Participation in Certain Sports Associated With Knee Osteoarthritis? A Systematic Review. Journal of Athletic training. 2017; 52(6)
3. Refevre-Colau M, et al. Is physical activity, practiced as recommended for health benefit, a risk factor for osteoarthritis? Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 2016: 59; 196–206
4. Kjaer P, et al Magnetic resonance imaging and low back pain in adults: a diagnostic imaging study of 40 year old men and women. Spine. May 15, 2005;30(10):1173-1180
5. Culvenor A, et al Prevalence of knee osteoarthritis features on magnetic resonance imaging in asymptomatic uninjured adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BJSM. 2019;53