Running Might Protect Against Knee Osteoarthritis

HERE’S SOMETHING to cite if you find yourself at Christmas dinner being told “running will ruin your knees”: Regular running at any age not only doesn’t increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis in your knees, but might prevent the condition, suggests research presented last week at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas analysed data on 2,683 participants in a long-term study known as the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Eight years after the study began, the participants reported on their main form of activity during four stages of life: ages 12-18, 19-34, 35-49 and 50 and older. If the participants reported running as one of their three main activities during one of the periods, they were classified as a runner at that time of their lives.

The researchers also collected knee x-ray information and participants’ reports of symptomatic pain. Knee x-rays were taken again two years later.

Using these diagnostic criteria, the researchers classified 22.8 per cent of the participants who had been a runner at some point (including currently) as having knee osteoarthritis, compared to 29.8 per cent of those who had never been a runner.

The finding is even more meaningful when you consider that the average age of the participants in the study was 64.7.

“Non-elite running at any time in life does not appear detrimental, and may be protective” in regards to developing knee osteoarthritis, the researchers concluded.

This study adds to the already strong evidence against the belief that regular running causes and/or hastens knee damage. A large study published last year reported that runners had roughly half the incidence of knee osteoarthritis as walkers. One theory suggests that runners’ average lower body mass index places less strain on the knee. Other research published last year suggested that running’s shorter ground contact time resulted in less overall force on the knee when covering a given distance compared to walking.

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