Running myth busted: the physiotherapy perspective on osteoarthritis

For decades, a prevailing myth has haunted the running community: that pounding the pavement leads to osteoarthritis (OA) and other joint problems.

Countless runners have been warned by well-meaning friends, family members, and even healthcare professionals that their favourite form of exercise is detrimental to their joint health in the long run… pardon the pun!

However, as a physiotherapist with an interest in Sport and Exercise, I’m here to dispel this pervasive myth and shed light on the truth about running and osteoarthritis.

First and foremost, it’s essential to understand what osteoarthritis is and how it develops.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease characterised by the breakdown of cartilage, the cushioning tissue that covers the ends of bones within a joint.

This can lead to pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility in affected joints.

While aging, genetics, and previous joint injuries are well-established risk factors for osteoarthritis, the role of running in its development is often misunderstood.

Contrary to popular belief, research has consistently shown that running, when done appropriately and in moderation, does not increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

In fact, several studies have demonstrated that runners are not at higher risk for osteoarthritis compared to non-runners and may even have a lower risk of developing the condition in certain joints, such as the knees.

Moreover, running offers numerous benefits for joint health and overall well-being.

Regular running strengthens the muscles surrounding the joints, improves joint stability, and promotes the production of synovial fluid, which lubricates and nourishes the joint surfaces.

Additionally, running helps maintain a healthy weight, reducing the load placed on the joints and decreasing the risk of obesity-related joint issues.

That being said, it’s crucial to emphasise the importance of smart training practices and injury prevention strategies for runners.

While running itself is not inherently harmful to joint health, overtraining, improper biomechanics, and inadequate recovery can increase the risk of injury, which in turn may predispose individuals to osteoarthritis later in life.

As physiotherapists, we play a critical role in educating runners about proper training techniques, optimising biomechanics, and addressing any underlying imbalances or weaknesses to minimise the risk of injury and promote long-term joint health.

In conclusion, the myth that running causes osteoarthritis is just that – a myth.

When approached responsibly and with proper guidance, running can be a safe and effective form of exercise that benefits both physical and mental health.

By dispelling misconceptions and providing evidence-based guidance, physiotherapists can empower runners to pursue their passion while safeguarding their joint health for years to come.

So lace up those running shoes and hit the pavement with confidence, knowing that you’re doing your joints a favour, not harm.