Running could protect knees against osteoarthritis

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We all know in our hearts that it's really good for you, but runners will be pleased to hear that they can now legitimately tell naysayers to sod off when they suggest that running is bad for your knees. New research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology last week has shown that, contrary to popular opinion, running regularly at any age does not increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis in your knees and could even prevent the condition.

In a long-term study known as the Osteoarthritis Initiative, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas analysed data on 2,683 participants. Eight years after the study began, the participants reported on their main form of activity during four stages of life: ages 12-18, 19-34, 35-49 and 50 and older. If the participants reported running as one of their three main activities during one of the periods, they were classified as a runner at that time of their lives.

The researchers also collected knee x-ray information and participants' reports of symptomatic pain. Knee x-rays were taken again two years later. Using these diagnostic criteria, the researchers classified 22.8 percent of the participants who had been a runner at some point (including currently) as having knee osteoarthritis, compared to 29.8 percent of those who had never been a runner.

"Non-elite running at any time in life does not appear detrimental, and may be protective" in regards to developing knee osteoarthritis, the researchers concluded.

The finding is even more meaningful when you consider that the average age of the participants in the study was 64.7.

This study adds to the already strong evidence against the belief that regular running causes and/or hastens knee damage. A large study published last year reported that runners had roughly half the incidence of knee osteoarthritis as walkers. One theory suggests that runners' average lower body mass index places less strain on the knee. Other research published last year suggested that running's shorter ground contact time resulted in less overall force on the knee when covering a given distance compared to walking.