Does running cause arthritis – Debunking the myth

You may have considered taking up running or jogging at some point in your life only to rule it out because of the belief that running leads to arthritis. Or that runners have “weak joints” in their old age. Or running erodes the joint cartilage. 

In fact, in the pharmacy, we have also heard several patients say, “I used to be an avid runner. I’m not anymore because I’ve been told it will give me arthritis”.

Is this a fact or fiction?

Debunking the myth

Contrary to popular belief, running does not directly cause arthritis. Numerous studies have found that regular running and other high-impact activities benefit joint health. 

A review published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy revealed that runners had a lower risk of developing knee osteoarthritis compared to non-runners. The repetitive impact of running can stimulate the production of joint fluid, which nourishes the cartilage and helps maintain joint health.

Not only that, a well-known long-term study conducted at Stanford University tracked nearly 1,000 runners (active members of a running club) and non-runners (healthy adults who didn’t have an intensive exercise regimen) for 21 years. 

None of the participants had arthritis when the study began, but many of them developed the condition over the next two decades. When the Stanford team tabulated the data, it found that the runners’ knees were no more or less healthy than the non-runners’ knees. 

The study also found that runners experienced less physical disability and had a 39% lower mortality rate than the non-runners.

The importance of proper technique

While running does not cause arthritis, poor running technique and overexertion can contribute to joint stress and increase the risk of injury. Maintaining good running form is crucial to minimise the strain on your joints. 

Here are some tips for proper running technique:

  • Maintain an upright posture and avoid excessive leaning forward or backward

  • Land mid-foot or forefoot, rather than on your heels, to reduce impact

  • Take shorter strides and increase your cadence (number of steps per minute) to reduce the forces exerted on your joints

  • Engage your core muscles to stabilise your body and reduce joint stress

  • Gradually increase your mileage and intensity to allow your body to adapt to the demands of running

  • Wearing appropriate footwear that provides cushioning and support is also essential in reducing the impact on your joints

The benefits of running for joint health

Despite the misconceptions, running offers several benefits for joint health. Regular running can help improve joint strength, maintain healthy cartilage, and increase bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Here are some key benefits of running for joint health:

  • Strengthening of supporting muscles: Running engages the muscles surrounding the joints, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. These muscles provide stability and support to the joints, reducing the stress placed on them during movement.

  • Maintenance of healthy cartilage: Cartilage is the connective tissue that cushions joints and helps absorb impact. The compressive forces experienced during running can promote the flow of synovial fluid, which nourishes the cartilage and maintains its health.

  • Increased bone density: Running is a weight-bearing exercise that stimulates the production of new bone tissue, leading to increased bone density. This can be particularly beneficial in reducing the risk of osteoporosis, a condition characterised by weak and brittle bones.

  • Weight management: Running is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise to help maintain a healthy body weight. Excess body weight stresses the joints, especially the knees and hips. By achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, the pressure on the joints is reduced, minimising the likelihood of developing arthritis.

Listen to your body

Everyone is unique, and it’s important to listen to your body and heed any warning signs. Consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial if you are planning on taking up running in middle or older age.  Slow and steady progression is the key, and there is a limit to how hard you should attempt to go.

In these age groups (in particular), you may experience persistent joint pain, swelling or discomfort while running.  Listening to your body and consulting a health professional at the early stages of experiencing pain is crucial to maintaining a running regime.  They can evaluate your condition, provide appropriate guidance, and help identify any underlying issues requiring attention.

The right nutrition and dietary supplementation can also help manage muscle recovery and bone health. At Heathershaw’s Compounding Pharmacy, we offer custom-made Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin D supplements that are formulated to address bone and muscle health. If you are interested in purchasing our custom-made formulations or would like to know more about them, have a chat with our pharmacists – Jenny, Gavin, Michelle, Amy, Maria and Jill.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

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