The average runner may be improving their joint health. Large studies looked at the effects of running over time, and found no increased risk of arthritis in the knees or hips. Some studies even found a reduced risk of knee and hip arthritis among recreational runners, including one large-scale meta-analysis of 114,829 participants.
On the other hand, competitive running may increase the risk of arthritis of the knees. This may be due to increased risk of serious injury. However, the results are inconclusive, with some studies showing an increased risk of arthritis among elite runners and others finding no difference.
Is running bad for your joints?
Recreational runners have lower risk of knee or hip arthritis than controls, professional runners have higher risk (meta-analysis, n=114829)
Runners were regarded as “competitive” if they were reported as professional/elite athletes or participated in international competitions. Recreational runners were individuals running in a nonprofessional (amateur) context. Twenty-five studies (n = 125810 individuals) were included and 17 (n = 114829 individuals) were meta-analyzed. The overall prevalence of hip and knee OA was 13.3% in competitive runners, 3.5% in recreational runners, and 10.2% in controls. The odds ratio for hip and/or knee OA in competitive runners was higher than that in recreational runners (1.34 and 0.86, respectively, with controls as a reference). Conclusion: Recreational runners had a lower occurrence of osteoarthritis compared with competitive runners and controls.
Running reduces risk of surgery for osteoarthritis by 64% (review)
Findings of 15 studies: 11 cohort (6 retrospective) and 4 case-control studies were mixed. Meta-analysis suggested a protective effect of running against surgery due to osteoarthritis: pooled odds ratio 0.46. Evidence relating to symptomatic outcomes was sparse and inconclusive.
Running does not increase risk of arthritis of the hip (review)
10 retrospective case control studies and 3 prospective studies were included for further analysis. The clinical examinations reported in the prospective studies did not reveal a significant difference between runners and non-runners. CONCLUSION: There is no evidence that running is associated with an increased risk for degenerative arthritis of the hip. There is no evidence for a different risk in men and women.
Long distance running may have protective effect on joints (review)
Although there are not currently enough data to give clear recom- mendations to long-distance runners, it appears that long-distance running does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees and hips for healthy people who have no other counterindications for this kind of physical activity. Long-distance running might even have a protective effect against joint degeneration.
Running does not increase risk of arthritis, unlike team and power sports (review)
The risk of incident radiographic knee/hip osteoarthritis features was increased for subjects with a history of regular sports participation. This risk depended on the type of sport (team and power sports but not endurance and running), and certain conditions (high level of practice) were closely related to the risk of injury. The risk of osteoarthritis was higher with participation in mixed sports, especially soccer or power sports, than endurance sport. However, the prevalence of clinical osteoarthritis between former elite athletes and controls was similar, with less hip/knee disability in former athletes. Moderate daily recreational or sport activities, whatever the type of sport, are not a consistent risk factor for clinical or radiographic knee/hip osteoarthritis.
Elite long distance runners have higher risk of knee osteoarthritis (review)
The overall knee osteoarthritis prevalence in sport participants (n = 3759) was 7.7%, compared with 7.3% among nonexposed controls (referent group n = 4730, odds ratio [OR] = 1.1). Specific sports with a significantly higher prevalence of knee osteoarthritis were soccer (OR = 3.5), elite-level long-distance running (OR = 3.3), competitive weight lifting (OR = 6.9), and wrestling (OR = 3.8).
Low- and moderate-volume running does not increase risk of arthritis (review)
Low- and moderate-volume runners appear to have no more risk of developing osteoarthritis than nonrunners. The existing literature is inconclusive about a possible association between high-volume running and the development of osteoarthritis.
Preponderance of clinical reports refute association between running and arthritis (review)
The overall health benefits of cardiovascular exercise, such as running, are well established. However, it is also well established that in certain circumstances running can lead to overload injuries of muscle, tendon, and bone. In contrast, it has not been established that running leads to degeneration of articular cartilage, which is the hallmark of osteoarthritis. This article reviews the available literature on the association between running and osteoarthritis, with a focus on clinical epidemiologic studies. The preponderance of clinical reports refutes an association between running and osteoarthritis.
Runners have much lower rate of developing disability compared to others of similar weight and health (n=781)
8-year prospective, longitudinal study with yearly assessments of 451 members of a runners’ club and 330 community controls who were initially 50 to 72 years old. The rate of development of disability was several times lower in the runners’ club members than in community controls; this difference persisted after adjusting for age, sex, body mass, baseline disability, smoking history, history of arthritis, or other comorbid conditions. In addition to differences in disability, there were significant differences in mortality between the runners’ club members (1.49%) and community controls (7.09%).
Runners have lower risk of developing pain in bones, ligaments or tendons (n=863)
Four hundred ninety-eight long-distance runners aged 50 to 72 years were compared with 365 community control subjects. Runners had less physical disability than age-matched control subjects and maintained more functional capacity. Differences persisted after adjustment for age, occupation, and sex, and after inclusion or exclusion of subjects with major medical problems. Musculoskeletal disability appeared to develop with age at a lower rate in runners (0.003 units per year versus 0.028) than in community control subjects, and the decreased rate was observed with both lower extremity and upper extremity functions. These data suggest positive effects of systematic aerobic running activity upon functional aspects of musculoskeletal aging.
Higher BMI, but not long distance running, associated with arthritis in knees (n=98)
Forty-five long-distance runners and 53 controls with a mean age of 58 years in 1984 were studied through 2002 with serial knee radiographs. Results: By the end of the study runners did not have more prevalent osteoarthritis (20 vs 32%) nor more cases of severe osteoarthritis (2.2% vs 9.4%) than did controls. Regression models found higher initial BMI, initial radiographic damage, and greater time from initial radiograph to be ssociated with worse radiographic osteoarthritis at the final assessment. Long-distance running among healthy older individuals was not associated with accelerated radiographic osteoarthritis.
Geez. I’d much rather hear that running is awful for my body since I really don’t like doing it!
Thanks for the great info though!
Ha! Thanks for commenting. There are so many ways to exercise! Now I’m curious to research what types are best for health and longevity!