If you like to run but you’re worried about whether it could trigger arthritis in your knees, have no fear. A recent report claims that not only does running not cause knee osteoarthritis, it may even help prevent it.

See Guide to Knee Joint Anatomy

Runners had lower risk for knee pain and arthritis

In the past, experts cautioned that running caused knee pain or deterioration because of the repetitive pressure it puts on the joint. Some research seemed to back this up. However, previous studies of runners mostly involved elite male runners, so the results may not apply to both genders or to recreational runners.

Read more: How Knee Joint Problems Cause Pain


Running may not cause knee arthritis, but it can increase risk for other knee problems.
See:
Common Running Injuries: Knee Pain

That was not the case with this study, whose participants were 55% female and had an average age was 65. After two years, the participants who ran regularly had less knee pain and/or less evidence of joint degeneration than the non-runners.1

Researchers also noted that those with the lowest body mass index (BMI) were likeliest to be frequent runners. This may help explain some of the connection, since extra weight is one of the greatest risk factors for osteoarthritis of the knee.

Running can still cause trouble for knees

Despite the fact that it may not cause knee osteoarthritis, running is still hard on knees.

See Common Running Injuries: Knee Pain

These are the main knee injuries that can trip up runners:

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee)

    This common knee injury is a result of irritation and inflammation where the patella, or kneecap, slides along the front of the femur bone. Signs of runner’s knee usually include pain on the front of the knee or sides of the kneecap, which gets worse with activity.

    Read more: Symptoms of Runner’s Knee

  • Patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee)

    The tendon that runs from the kneecap to the tibia (shin bone) is the patellar tendon. It’s pulled by the quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh, so repetitive contractions of the quad muscles can damage or inflame the patellar tendon.

    Although jumper’s knee is most likely to affect people who play sports that involve a lot of jumping, like basketball or volleyball, this injury can also affect runners—particularly those who are ramping up their training too quickly or running on hilly terrain.

    See Understanding Jumper’s Knee

  • Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome

    The IT band runs from the hip down the outside of the leg to the knee. When IT band syndrome occurs, it usually causes pain on the side of the knee. Runners may notice IT band pain most when running downhill or when their feet hit the ground.

    Read more: IT Band Syndrome Symptoms

  • Meniscus tears

    The meniscus is a disc of cartilage that protects the bones of the knee joint. It can become torn or damaged over time. Runners at high risk for a meniscus tear include those who are older or who run on uneven surfaces.

    See Understanding Meniscus Tears

To protect your knees and other joints while running, pay attention to these preventive practices:

  • Warm up with 10 minutes of light activity before hitting your stride.
  • After your run, stretch for a few minutes.
  • Wear properly fitted shoes that are in good condition.
  • Don’t change your training routine too drastically, but ramp it up gradually.
  • If you suffer an injury, take a break from training and give yourself time to recover.

If you’re experiencing knee pain that’s not responding to R.I.C.E after a few weeks, see your doctor or a sports specialist so your condition can be properly diagnosed and treated.

Learn more:

8 Training Errors That Can Trigger IT Band Pain

Is Your Knee Pain Caused by Jumper’s Knee?

References:

  1. "Running Does Not Lead to Knee Osteoarthritis and May Protect People From Developing the Disease." American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting. November 11, 2014.