Running is not bad for arthritis!

by | Mar 6, 2017

Knee arthritis x ray

Knee arthritis x ray from Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation (1920)

In a previous blog we talked about aging and running, and how the traditional, age-old advice on osteoarthritis (OA) and running may not be accurate. Previously, runners were often told that running was bad for their joints, and they would wind up with arthritis later in life. It was thought runners would “wear their joints down”. But most recent research has not found a link between OA and running – instead, we are seeing suggestions that running may actually protect against OA in the knee! I’m excited about a recent paper in the European Journal of Applied Physiology that has provided more information to support this!

The research was done in the biomechanics lab at BYU, studying changes in the synovial fluid of the knee in response to running. Synovial fluid contains beneficial nutrients, and it bathes the cartilage of the knee, helping to keep it healthy. A sample of synovial fluid was taken from the knees of six healthy volunteers. The volunteers then ran for 30 minutes. 15 minutes after they completed running, a second sample was taken.

They found that 30-minutes of running lowered two compounds (pro-inflammatory cytokines) that have a significant role in joint disease! They also found that one of these markers had a significant correlation to cadence! Higher cadence led to lower levels of this inflammatory marker. Also, there was an increase in a compound that has a positive role in cartilage cell turnover. A higher turnover of cartilage cells means that there is an increased rate of remodeling of cartilage, and as such the cartilage cells will be younger. Compare this with cartilage cells that are older and more prone to wear and damage. Although this study was not completed on an arthritic population, other recent research suggests that these findings might also hold for those with OA. I will be keeping my eyes peeled for more research on this topic as it emerges, and will definitely keep you posted!

So, if you meet a health professional that tells you that running is bad for you, I would ask questions! If they simply equate running to pounding which is “obviously” bad for the joint, they may not be completely up to date on the latest research. If you follow the evidence, it appears that in both the healthy and arthritic joint a loading exercises such as running, appropriately dosed, is good for joint health!

Knee arthroscopy – would being a runner lead them to find more osteo-arthritis? Perhaps not! (P.s. Not one of my patients – these are from a photographer who had a knee scope and published them open access online! No HIPAA violation!)


Hyldahl RD, Evans A, Kwon S, et al. Running decreases knee intra-articular cytokine and cartilage oligomeric matrix concentrations: a pilot study. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016;116(11-12):2305-2314.

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Photo credit: Bekathwia via / CC BY-SA

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