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How Running Strengthens Joints | Muscle & Body Magazine

Research debunks the myth that running causes knee arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis that typically affects older individuals, and “occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms including knee and gout pain (i.e., a warm, swelling sensitivity in the feet) are commonly caused by obesity, and up until recently, were popularly believed to be worsened or even caused by running, due to stress on the knees.

However, a new study conducted by Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, and reported in The New York Times suggests that “distance running is unlikely to contribute to the development of arthritis, precisely and paradoxically because it involves so much running.”

The belief that running (usually long-distance running) causes osteoarthritis stems from the idea that with each running stride, the knee endures direct blunt force that wears down precious cartilage—which, of course, cushions the joint and prevents direct bone-to-bone contact that causes pain.

However, after much debate and many tests in which 75,000 runners were evaluated, it was determined that there was “no evidence that running increases the risk of osteoarthritis, including participation in marathons.” It was noted that these findings were true only for those runners with healthy knees to begin with. As long as the knees were in working order, running did not deteriorate the joint or lead to osteoarthritis.

People who were considered less active, however, had a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, which busts the myth that running is a greater cause for concern when avoiding joint pain.

Running As Good As Walking For Knees

Walking has been made popular for older patients by doctors and fitness enthusiasts for its ability to keep the heart rate up and reduce weight gain. Walking is considered a useful way to reactivate tired knees. However, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise determined that running is just as beneficial.

Researchers recognized the baffling correlation between running’s “high impact with low risk” and examined the biomechanics between running and walking.

Fourteen healthy men and women with no history of knee pain were evaluated with the use of “motion-capture cameras and pads that measured the forces generated when each volunteer struck the ground.” It was found that while these “volunteers hit the ground with about eight times their body weight while running (about three times as much force as during walking), they struck the ground less often while running, because their strides were longer.” This means that the volunteers covered the same distance when running with fewer steps than they did walking.

Whether an individual was running or walking, the overall load on the knees remained more or less the same, due to the fact that “a runner generated more pounding with each stride, but took fewer strides than a walker,” so long as the traveled distance was equivalent.

“Cyclical Loading” Strengthens Cartilage

Ross Miller, PhD, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland, believes these findings explain why so few runners develop knee osteoarthritis: “Running and walking are essentially indistinguishable in terms of the wear and tear on [the] knees,” when measured over a particular distance. This further indicates that running could be beneficial against osteoarthritis.

Miller suggests that “cartilage likes cyclical loading,” an activity in which force is applied to the joint, removed and then applied again. It was shown in animal studies that cyclical loading “prompted cartilage cells to divide and replenish tissue,” says Miller, who speculates that lack of stimulation of the joint can overload cartilage, causing more cells to die without replacement.

These findings do not dismiss the relationship between running and knee pain, however. Runners often will experience knee pain that is unrelated to osteoarthritis. “Runner’s knee,” or patellofemoral pain syndrome, is caused by overuse, direct trauma, misalignment of the joints, flat feet (or fallen arches) or weak thigh muscles. Symptoms include swelling of the knee, pain behind the kneecap, pain when bending the knee and grinding of the knee joint, so it’s important to maintain quality form and run with more of a bend in the knee rather than straight-legged.

However, don’t run through the pain. If you experience unexplained knee pain, consult your healthcare professional for a diagnosis and proper treatment, if necessary.

Nutrients For Joint Relief

Research published by the National Institutes of Health has shown that glucosamine, chondroitin and hyal-uronic acid could combat the symptoms of joint pain.

  • “Glucosamine is a natural compound found in healthy cartilage,” according to the Mayo Clinic, and is believed to strengthen cartilage by aiding glycosaminoglycan synthesis, a highly polar process attracting water, which acts as a lubricant.

  • Chondroitin, as chondroitin sulfate, is a main component of cartilage. It’s almost always paired with glucosamine.

  • Hyaluronic acid is also naturally found in the body, particularly the joints and eye fluid, and has been shown to improve joint stiffness and decrease pain-related symptoms.

    Link:  How Running Strengthens Joints | Muscle & Body Magazine.