Running & Joint Health

By: Andrew Rathjen, PT

Runners may hear a phrase in response to their choice of exercise. The phrase typically involves a warning such as “You shouldn’t run. Don’t you know that it ruins your knees and hips?” It may be assumed that the destruction of the knee and hip refers to arthritis. Arthritis affects joints with symptoms of pain, stiffness, and swelling. We all develop a certain amount of arthritis as we age, but the inevitable decline of function and joint health as a result of running is what I want to address. Studies indicate that runners have lower rates of knee osteoarthritis than sedentary individuals.

Arthritis is characterized by a break down of cartilage. Cartilage is the protective tissue at the end of bones. Rather than wearing the cartilage down, running actually helps with the lubrication of the cartilage and stimulates the body to build new cartilage. Running also can condition the cartilage to become more resilient as it adapts. In regards to the type of running that can contribute to these positive changes, moderation is the key. Moderation can be defined in many ways, but generally, a slow progression will need to occur if you are new to running. If you experience pain, do not ignore it. Identifying underlying issues, such as weakness or decreased mobility, is also very important. A physical therapist can identify those deficits. That is a topic that will be explored in a future blog.

In summary, not only does running not harm the knees and hip, it can lead to healthier joints. This is welcome news to those already running and encouragement to those thinking about starting. Happy running!

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