Runners Need Not Fear “Wear and Tear” Concerns, New Study Says

Runners Need Not Fear “Wear and Tear” Concerns, New Study Says

Human beings and automobiles are different, it turns out, and a new study proves doctors need to be reminded of that.

Conventional wisdom for runners may have been debunked by a new study presented this week at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons’ annual meeting.

Researchers from Northwestern University found that runners were not more likely to develop hip or knee osteoarthritis the longer, faster and more frequently they ran. NBC News summarized the findings, writing:

The new research surveyed 3,804 recreational runners who participated in the Chicago Marathon in 2019 or 2021 with questions from how many years they’d been running and their average running paces to whether they had family histories of arthritis.

It’s widely believed, even among doctors, that using the joints more often, through a repetitive activity like running, makes the knee and hip cartilage deteriorate more quickly, upping osteoarthritis risk. The … researchers found that wasn’t the case. […]

Thanks to the broad nature of the group surveyed — a departure from historical research focused on elite-level Olympians — the Northwestern researchers could analyze how runners’ arthritis risk changed according to their running pace, intensity and cumulative running history.

Surprisingly, they found no association between an increased risk for knee or hip arthritis and the number of years someone had been running, the number of marathons completed, their weekly running mileage, nor their running pace.

Given the survey respondents’ wide range of weekly mileages, paces, ages and cumulative years spent running, the results could apply to average runners who never get close to marathon-level distance, the researchers said.

Dr. Vehniah Tjong, an orthopedic sports surgeon who co-authored the study, said that: “Runners should be encouraged by our results,” because “They refute the current dogma that long-distance running predisposes an individual to arthritis of the hip and knee.”

Dr. Matthew Hartwell, an orthopedic surgeon and lead author of the study, added that the car analogy is often unhelpful and leads to bad advice from well-intentioned physicians.

“If you liken people to cars, intuitively it makes sense that the more you use your joints, the more you’re going to wear them out,” Hartwell said. “But the joint is really an active, living part of the body, almost like an organ.”


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