Running Doesn’t Harm Joints – In Fact, It May Protect Them
August 25, 2023
A persistent myth about long-distance running is that it’s hard on the joints. Constant pounding over the years is bound to put wear and tear on your knees and hips, right?
The research says not so fast. Repetitive motions can elevate risk of osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. But research shows that running doesn’t increase risk of osteoarthritis and may actually help prevent it.
“In general, healthy lifestyles and recreational exercise, including running, are quite good for joint health,” says University Hospitals sports medicine specialist Benjamin Boswell, DO. “Sedentary lifestyle and poor health habits are worse for joint health. Running helps keep us moving and keeps us in better health, which is better for your joints.”
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting some 32 million U.S. adults. It’s a breakdown of joint cartilage between the bones, often causing pain, inflammation and stiffness.
Many studies have looked at whether long-distance running increases risk of osteoarthritis. Research suggests that recreational runners have nothing to worry about. In fact, a survey of roughly 3,800 Chicago Marathon runners found no link between running history, weekly running mileage and the risk of knee and hip osteoarthritis.
It’s more likely that family history, age, body mass index and previous injuries will affect the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Can Running Protect the Joints?
Dr. Boswell of the UH Drusinsky Sports Medicine Institute points to recent research showing that recreational running actually decreases the rate of hip and knee osteoarthritis as compared to those with more sedentary lifestyles.
“This does include marathon runners,” he says. “However, there is a very small increase in hip and knee osteoarthritis in elite competitive runners when compared to those with sedentary lifestyles. This is likely because of the extreme increase in running duration and distances. Overall, the consensus is that recreational running improves joint health.”
Dr. Boswell says his best advice to stave off osteoarthritis is to stay active and fit.
“A common term we like to use is ‘motion is lotion’ and this can’t be more true than for joint health,” he says. “The best thing for joint health is not only running, but also cross training and strength training. Exercise is the answer for many ailments in life.”
At University Hospitals, our fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists, primary care doctors, nutritionists, sleep experts and other health care professionals ensure the very best sports medicine care for active people.