Knee Osteoarthritis in Runners

Knee Osteoarthritis in Runners

In June this year, a prominent arthritis researcher from the UK wrote an article in the prestigious British Journal of Sports Medicine, asking the question: Does running cause knee arthritis? It turns out there’s good news and bad news.

The Good News

Overall it appears that ‘recreational’ running is not a risk factor for knee osteoarthritis (OA). Now, before we get carried away, this needs to be defined a little better.


Figure – Knee osteoarthritis is a multi-tissue disorder of the joint.

Firstly, when they refer to ‘recreational’ runners the authors are referring to anyone who doesn’t receive a payment to run. Roughly speaking, this refers to those who are slower than a 2hr 45min marathon pace. This represents probably 95% of the running population! However, this is conditional that you haven’t had a significant knee injury, such as previous cartilage or ACL injury.

Now we should also clarify this is referring to the risk of developing OA in someone who currently does not have the condition; it is not referring to the risk of furthering the progression of someone already affected.

The Bad News

Due to limitations in OA research, the good news part of this story isn’t definitive. Very few of the studies followed a big group of people (including runners) over a period of time to determine who did or didn’t get OA; instead, they looked at patterns in the people with and without OA to determine whether running presented a risk. In other words, we can make an educated guess that running isn’t bad for your knee, but we’re not certain.

Bottom line: There’s nothing to suggest that running causes OA! At least for the majority of us with healthy knees at the recreational level.

Michael Ryan
BHK, CPed(C), MSc, PhD

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