Does running cause knee arthritis?

knee treatmentStuff wears out over time as does our body.  The joint cartilage (the smooth covering over the end of a bone inside of a human joint) can wear out, too.  As a joint wears out it develops what is called degenerative joint disease, or “wear and tear arthritis”.  This is the most common form of arthritis.  People will often say “Arthur has come to visit” and usually he has come for a long visit and doesn’t want to leave.  Some people get arthritis worse than others, but why?  The reason arthritis develops is partially due to your genetics (how you are made) and partially due to some environmental issues (e.g. previous injuries or trauma).At this time, we have no reproducible control over how we are made.  Maybe one day we will be able to easily control this genetic information our bodies use and engineer a way to keep us from getting certain diseases such as arthritis; but most of that is not quite here yet.  So we are stuck with our genes.  If our genes tell our knees to start wearing out, we can’t yet tell our knees to ignore the genes.  Believe me, scientists are working on it.
However, we can control what we do to our knees.  Avoiding trauma would certainly help preserve our joints.  Injuries such as fractures in the joints,
tears of the ACL and meniscus, falls from a height and major car accidents may predispose our knees to what we call post-traumatic arthritis which can also lead to wear and tear arthritis. But does running do the same thing?  Read on.

Researchers looked at the volume of cartilage over a ten year timeframe in people who did not have previous injuries to their knees.  They compared those who regularly participated in a vigorous physical activity exercise program like running, biking and swimming to those who were more sedentary (couch potatoes).What they found was interesting.Those who exercised regularly with high to medium intensity regimens which place weight bearing loads on the knees had, on average, less joint cartilage loss by MRI over the study period.Increased muscle strength of the inner portion of the thigh muscle was also associated with less cartilage loss.This doesn’t mean that people who run won’t get arthritis.We cannot change the genetics.It just shows that people who run without preexisting knee injuries do not increase their likelihood of getting arthritis.

There is no evidence to support the statement or belief that running causes knee arthritis; but there have been good clinical studies to support the contrary; that running does not cause knee arthritis in previously uninjured knees.  As long as you are healthy enough to exercise, (consult your primary care physician to determine whether or not you are healthy enough) regular running or controlled load bearing workouts in people without previous knee injuries do not increase your risk of arthritis.  In fact, the cardiovascular and psychological benefits of these types of exercise programs are well documented.  So, don’t let the fear of arthritis stop you.  Put on your shoes and go.