Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common forms of arthritis affecting the knee and hip joints most recurrently in middle aged and older people. Studies have shown obesity, age, genetics and joint injuries influence one’s susceptibility to OA, yet are at odds on the relationship between running and the onset of OA.
The phrase “wear-and-tear” is traditionally used to refer and link to OA; this refers to the belief that OA is the wearing away of the cartilage, so the joint no longer has a (or has a reduced amount of) cushioning between the bones that can absorb the shock caused by movement and use. With this in mind, older studies also conclude that running increases the risk of OA. This conclusion seems logical given our simple summary of OA as running is a high impact sport causing stress on the joints involved and would gradually wear away at the cartilage.
Recent studies have argued otherwise, taking a different core position as well. OA is now seen in association with the whole joint, not just the wearing down of cartilage. A study by Lo et al (2017) did not include professional athletes and focused on voluntary runners in an attempt to make the study applicable to a wider population. In a sample size of 2,637 participants, the study concludes that running does not seem to lead to an increased risk of OA for casual ‘self-selected’ runners.
Although different conclusions have been drawn, experts have argued that this may be due to the different target groups of the various studies. Earlier studies focused on professional athletes and non-athletes in an attempt to get two extreme for their studies. Recent studies in an attempt to make their research more applicable have focused on samples from the population, so not professional athletes. On top of this the various studies have vastly different methodology as a study by Timmins, Leech, Batt and Edwards (2016) concludes, stating “Conflicting results may reflect methodological heterogeneity”. Therefore, the results cannot really be compared.
Research conducted by Guo-Xin Ni (2016) attempts to take into account the differences in people’s situations, methodology and various factors affecting other studies’ research pertaining to the development and prevention of running-related osteoarthritis. This paper identifies the differences in runners who are professionals (competitive runners), low- and moderate-level runners, and recreational runners. Competitive runners are more likely to have had a higher frequency of joint injuries, strenuous running experiences, and prolonged high-impact running all of which can be linked to an increased risk of OA. Ni (2016) clearly differentiates between professional competitive runners and recreational, low- and moderate-level runners. The stress the knee joints of a competitive runner undergo is more frequent and intense than those others do, therefore, non-competitive runners do not run these same increased risks.
Research is not yet conclusive as to the relationship between running and OA; as of yet literature does not have conclusive evidence to make a connection between recreational non-professional running and OA. If anything research supports casual running as a good way to increase an individual’s muscular strength, cardiovascular system, and overall health. This research outlining running’s benefits far outweighs the inconclusive findings linked to OA.
Lo, G., Driban, J., Kriska, A., McAlindon, T., Souza, R., & Petersen, N. et al. (2017). Is There an Association Between a History of Running and Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis? A Cross-Sectional Study From the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Arthritis Care & Research, 69(2), 183-191. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/acr.22939
Ni, G. (2016). Development and Prevention of Running-Related Osteoarthritis. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 15(5), 342-349. http://dx.doi.org/10.1249/jsr.0000000000000294
Timmins, K., Leech, R., Batt, M., & Edwards, K. (2016). Running and Knee Osteoarthritis. The American Journal Of Sports Medicine, XX(X), 1-11.