The most common site for pain in recreational runners is the knee. For some, especially older runners, the pain can be a symptom of osteoarthritis. But does running worsen knee pain and osteoarthritis?
A study from Canada shows that many people – including health professionals – believe running might be harmful to knee joints, particularly in people with knee osteoarthritis. One in two people believes that the repetitive loading associated with running, especially frequent or long-distance running, will speed up the deterioration caused by knee osteoarthritis and shorten the time to having the knee surgically replaced with an artificial joint.
But are these fears about running supported by science? Recreational exercise does not seem to be harmful to knee cartilage. In fact, exercise is important for cartilage health – the stimulus brings nutrients to the joints. And people who exercise moderately are less likely to have knee osteoarthritis. More specifically, recreational runners have far lower rates of knee osteoarthritis than non-runners. So you could say that not running might be bad for your knees.
However, high-volume or high-intensity running is associated with higher rates of knee osteoarthritis compared with recreational running, suggesting that there is probably a sweet spot which doesn’t involve being a couch potato or getting too competitive.