The scientific literature has started to build that runners with knee osteoarthritis can, and perhaps should, continue to run without the fear of significant worsening of their knee joint. The medical professions have often tried to dissuade people from running with the presumption that a high impact activity was likely to cause worsening of the patients arthritis. Most runners love their sport and have no desire to trade in prematurely for an activity considered low impact. The news that you need to find a new activity can be traumatic for this very committed group of athletes. The cardiovascular and mental benefits of running are well understood and this is what has led to further studies to ensure that the medical profession is giving the right advice to the patient group presenting with knee arthritis.
A recent study (Lo GH in Clinical Rheumatology 2018) looked at the effects of “self selected” running in a group of over 50 year old runners. Self selected running really describes running at a speed and distance on a regular interval that the runner determines is unlikely to significantly aggravate their knee pain. Every participant had to have Osteoarthritis in at least one knee joint. Assessment of the study was made through repeat radiographs and various knee assessment questionnaires completed by the patients over a 48 month period. The results of the study demonstrated no increase in radiographic progression of the arthritis and an improvement in knee pain rather than worsening of knee pain. I would also be confident that if other factors both physiological (eg: blood pressure, heart rate and BMI) and psychological were considered, that we most likely would have seen improvements in these areas as well.
So the take home message – those of us diagnosed with OA of the knees can probably still run but it must be at your own pace and distance (self selected) and this may be variable day to day. I would also still suggest a review with a physiotherapist to ensure that you don't have anything more serious that might preclude you from a return to running. Otherwise get out there and get running.
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Jason is the Leichhardt Physiotherapy clinic practice principal. A graduate from Sydney Uni and practicing for over 20 years, he is passionate about sharing new discoveries.