One of the most dreaded of words your GP could say to you is ‘I think you have arthritis’. Does this mean the end of your running career? Not necessarily. Before you hang up your running shoes, let’s look at the facts.

Running and Osteoarthritis

Many studies have examined whether runners have more Osteoarthritis (OA) than less active people. Most of these studies focus on the knee joint and ask, ‘Are we wearing out our knees?’ The overriding conclusion seems to be no. Moderate exercise, including running, will not damage your joints or cause OA, and if you already have some arthritis present it will not speed up the process. Exercise is a treatment for established OA and will reduce pain and disability.

Running with an injury, however, may increase your OA risk. The muscles supporting the knee joint are vitally important since they absorb impact when the foot hits the ground. If they are weak or misaligned, this impact through the bone and cartilage is unevenly distributed, which can lead to cartilage damage and overgrowth of bone. Muscles that have been gradually trained with good biomechanics seem to give the best protection to joints.

Reassuring Evidence

Running on normal joints is not going to give you arthritisand running on joints which have some OA changes will not speed up the process. Even if you’re running pain-free right now, have a gait analysis (where you’re filmed running) to ensure you are wearing the right trainers. A full assessment of your posture and biomechanics might uncover weaknesses and imbalances you were unaware of.

If you are overweight, getting down to a healthy weight will really benefit your joints. The use of nutritional supplements in OA is controversial. 

You need to strengthen all the muscles supporting your joints to protect them so aim to include regular cross-training and strength work with weights in your routine. Do not run when you’re injured and do not ignore twinges. Now you know the facts, pull on your trainers and get out there.