In a groundbreaking study conducted during the Chicago Marathon, orthopedic researchers sought to explore the impact of long-distance running on bone and joint health. And more specifically, knee and hip arthritis in recreational runners. The results of the study, which involved the largest survey of marathon runners ever conducted, have shed new light on the relationship between running and arthritis risk. So does running cause knee arthritis? Contrary to prevailing beliefs, the study found no association between cumulative running history and the likelihood of developing arthritis.
Study Breakdown – Does Running Cause Knee Arthritis?
Lead author Dr. Matthew J. Hartwell, an orthopedic surgery sports medicine fellow at the University of California San Francisco, spearheaded the research during his residency at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The study, titled “Does Running Increase the Risk for Hip and Knee Arthritis? A Survey of 3,804 Chicago Marathon Runners,” was presented at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
The study involved an electronic survey completed by 3,804 participants who had registered for the 2019 and 2021 Chicago Marathons. The respondents had an average age of 43.9 years, with an average of 14.7 years of running experience and having completed five or fewer marathons on average.
The survey included 30 questions that covered demographic information, running history, and hip/knee health. Key factors assessed included the occurrence of hip or knee pain, history of injuries or surgeries, family history of arthritis, and diagnosis of hip or knee arthritis.
Highlights & Takeaways
- The prevalence of hip and/or knee arthritis among the surveyed runners was 7.3%.
- Cumulative number of years running, number of marathons completed, weekly mileage, and mean running pace were not significant risk factors for arthritis.
- Factors that did increase the risk for arthritis were advancing age, body mass index (BMI), family history of hip or knee arthritis, and prior injuries or surgeries.
- A significant number of participants (24.2%) had been advised by their physicians to reduce or stop running, despite no evidence supporting a link between running and arthritis risk.
- The majority of runners (94.2%) planned to continue running marathons, indicating their commitment to the sport and their willingness to defy medical advice.
“Recreational runners are a dedicated group of people who use the sport for exercise, mental clarity, or to challenge themselves. Our hope is these findings educate physicians so they don’t instinctively advise against running, and they work to meet patients on their level—because, as these data show, runners are likely to continue running despite medical advice.” – Dr. Vehniah K. Tjong, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Northwestern University.
The study challenges the conventional belief that running contributes to the development of arthritis, particularly in the knees and hips. The results indicate that factors such as age, BMI, family history, and prior injuries or surgeries are more significant risk factors for arthritis than running itself. Despite this evidence, a substantial number of runners still receive recommendations from healthcare professionals to reduce or cease their running activities.
Moving forward, it is crucial for physicians to recognize the dedication and passion of recreational runners and engage in informed conversations with them. By dispelling the misconception that running is inherently detrimental to joint health, healthcare professionals can support runners in maintaining their active lifestyles while managing any individual risk factors for arthritis. Ultimately, this study highlights the importance of personalized care and shared decision-making between healthcare providers and their patients in promoting optimal musculoskeletal health.