Does Running cause Arthritis?

Is running associated with a higher prevalence of knee and hip osteoarthritis (OA)?

Growing up, I remember a lot of adults I knew telling me that they stopped running because it was thought to be harmful to their joints. They were told that their osteoarthritis was caused by the amount of mileage that they did when they were younger.

I have been an avid runner from a young age.  As a physiotherapist that enjoys researching, treating and managing runners, it’s one of my goals to make sure that people accurately know the research around this question.

Is this actually the case?

Short answer to the question that brought you all here: NO!

In a study published in the JOSPT (Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physiotherapy) in 2017 entitled “The Association of Recreational and Competitive Running With Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”, they compared the prevalence (the overall presence) of OA in elite runners, recreational runners and a control group.

Group Breakdown of the Running Study:

The group of elite runners was made up of professional runners, mainly those competing for their country. The control group was made up of non-runners, and sedentary (non-active) individuals. The group made up of recreational runners was anywhere in between (no specific amount of running was set as a baseline for inclusion).

The study analyzes the literature that fit it’s inclusion and exclusion criteria, and came up with some very interesting results!

Study Results:

Results showed that running at a recreational level was actually associated with a LOWER prevalence of hip and knee osteoarthritis, compared to both the control group and the elite running group!

The prevalence of hip and or knee osteoarthritis was shown to be as follows:

  • Elite Running group: 13.3%
  • Control Group: 10.2 %
  • Recreational Runners: 3.5%

So what does this mean??

So many great things! First and foremost, it shows that running at a recreational level (anything less than elite level running) can be safely recommended as a general health exercise. Secondly, compared to those that do not run, for the overwhelming majority of runners, it will actually have a protective mechanism at staving off the development of hip and knee osteoarthritis!

There are many factors involved in running that contribute to these findings.

Running typically:

    • Decreases body weight
    • Provides positive psychological benefits
    • Reduces inflammation
    • Benefits the cartilage around our joints through cyclic loading, and
    • Is often times associated with reduced life stress.

All of these factors (plus more), aid in the overall benefit of reducing osteoarthritis in the majority of runners.

There are so many known ways to maintain joint health, and we can now add running to that list. Considering including it in your exercise routine may not be a bad idea!

If you’re interested in starting to run but are worried about form, other health issues, or where to start, contact your primary care provider AND your physiotherapist. We’re here to help you and are great sources for tips on safe, effective and long lasting running. Joint health is such an important topic, and we keep finding more ways to maintain it, running being a great one!

Happy Easter and Passover weekend to everyone, and happy running!

Want to book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists? You can do so by sending us an email! You can also check out our Telehealth options if you don’t live near by.


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Christina Prevett