If you are a runner, particularly a distance runner, you might wonder if all the running over they years may give you knee arthritis. Two new studies have come out this year confirming that this concern is probably a myth. Actually the real story may be the opposite: that running gives some level of protection from arthritis.
What may lead to knee arthritis
Osteoarthritis of the knee results in a thinning of the cartilage that cushions the area between two bones. The most important cause of this thinning is age, and people who are obese are more prone to problems. Women have a higher risk, as well as people with a positive family history. Direct stress on the knee joint from frequent squatting or kneeling, and repeated knee injuries, can also trigger arthritis.
But running does not seem to be a cause. The first study, just published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, looked at the level of “inflammatory markers” (or cytokines) in the knees of volunteers before and after running. These markers are chemicals that rise in response to damage and inflammation in a joint.
Using a needle, the researchers extracted joint fluid from healthy men and women runners aged 19-35. The results showed that their knee inflammatory markers actually decreased after 30 minutes of running.
Principal author Dr. Robert Hyldahl, an exercise scientist, says “What we now know is that for young, healthy individuals, exercise creates an anti-inflammatory environment that may be beneficial in terms of long-term joint health.”
Similar to bones, where some degree of stress on the bone seems to make the bone stronger, the stress from running somehow seems to make the protective cartilage of the knee stronger as well.
Knee arthritis in marathoners?
The second study examined the incidence of knee and hip arthritis in 953 marathon runners from 37 countries over a 16-year period. Surprisingly perhaps, the results showed that generally, the more miles a person ran, the lower the risk of arthritis. Further, that marathon runners did not have a higher overall risk of osteoarthritis of the knee or hip compared to the general population,
Shoes and running surface
All this is good news for runners, or people thinking about running. To protect your knees, it is important to select the right shoes, both for running and during your regular day. According to the Arthritis Foundation (USA), it is best to choose flat-sole shoes.
The surface you run on is important as well, and softer—such as grass or gravel—is ideal. Also remember to keep your weight under control, as obesity directly impacts your knee health. And listen to your body. If needed, an experienced trainer or sports medicine specialist is a good choice.
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