Can Arthritis Catch Up With Runners?
Jan. 28, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Could running -- the very exercise that keeps
millions in good shape -- actually cause damage in the form of painful
arthritis as we get older?
Some studies have shown that running can cause leg and knee joints to
deteriorate, causing osteoarthritis and often leading to joint replacement
surgery. However, a paper published in a recent issue of Current Opinions in
Orthopedics shows that an athlete's rigorous, high-impact, high-stress
running regimen causes greater risk of severe joint deterioration. But baby
boomers who take up recreational jogging probably aren't causing themselves any
"Running two or three times a week is fine," lead author Nancy Lane,
MD, tells WebMD. "But we also have to look at lifetime exposure. Over time,
it could do some damage." Lane advises jogging at a moderate pace -- an
How osteoarthritis develops is unclear, says Lane, who is an associate
professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. However,
damage to the bone surface can start a biological process that results in joint
degeneration. Some exercise is believed to be beneficial to the joint because
it increases the circulation of fluid that bathes the joint cartilage and helps
keep cartilage and muscles healthy.
In the paper, the authors cite a recent study in which older women -- with
an average age of 66 -- were followed for nine years. Some were runners, who
averaged 41 hours of running a week; others were non-runners who exercised
about two hours a week. While the runners decreased their running minutes by
nearly 50% during the nine-year period, their overall weekly exercise minutes
remained about the same.
There was evidence of knee damage in all the women, says Lane, "but it
appeared that those who were active a few times a week in their teen-age and
early adult years had a modestly increased risk of arthritis of the hip."
This study shows that as individuals age, knee and hip osteoarthritis develops
at a similar pace for both runners and non-runners, she adds.
"Overall, this study demonstrates that in normal knee and hip joints,
regular recreational running does not increase development of
osteoarthritis," says Lane. "However, to put this into perspective,
these individuals started running in their 40s, and the exercise was low impact
or recreational in nature."
Lane points out that signs of osteoporosis were evident in all the women.
Despite staying relatively active, the runners lost bone mass at the same rate
as the non-runners. "Age-related bone loss occurs despite continuous
activities," says Lane.
The authors also cite a four-year Swedish study, in which women ages 50-70
-- some who had hip replacements because of osteoarthritis -- were interviewed
about their sports activities before age 50 as well as overall health status,
smoking habits, occupational history, and work at home. The study showed that
sporting activities and occupational stresses -- knee-bending and lifting --
until the age of 50 appears to be a moderate risk factor in women for
developing severe osteoarthritis of the hip. However, says Lane, these results
must be interpreted cautiously, since women had to report from memory what they
did 50 years ago.