Run­ning with os­teoarthri­tis

Canadian Running - - THE SCIENCE OF RUNNING - Alex Hutchin­son, a se­nior edi­tor with Cana­dian Run­ning, is one of the most re­spected sport sci­ence jour­nal­ists in the world.

For years, sci­en­tists have been re­as­sur­ing us that – con­trary to all the warn­ings from rel­a­tives and co-work­ers – run­ning doesn’t in­crease your risk of de­vel­op­ing os­teoarthri­tis in your knees or hips, and may even de­crease your risk. It doesn’t, how­ever, grant you im­mu­nity. So a more chal­leng­ing ques­tion re­mains: if you do de­velop os­teoarthri­tis, is it pos­si­ble to con­tinue to run or get other forms of ex­er­cise?

That ques­tion is all the more im­por­tant as ev­i­dence piles up that stop­ping ex­er­cise be­cause of painful joints can trig­ger a cas­cade of other prob­lems, in­clud­ing weight gain and heart dis­ease, that ul­ti­mately speed the pro­gres­sion of the dis­ease. A re­cent study led by McMaster Uni­ver­sity grad­u­ate stu­dent An­thony Gatti used ad­vanced imag­ing tech­niques to com­pare the ef­fects of run­ning and cycling on knee car­ti­lage. Af­ter a sin­gle bout of ex­er­cise, run­ning pro­duced greater tem­po­rary de­for­ma­tion in the car­ti­lage. But sub­jects who had a his­tory of more ex­er­cise had less car­ti­lage de­for­ma­tion dur­ing both run­ning and cycling, sug­gest­ing that car­ti­lage, like mus­cle, can adapt over time to han­dle re­peated loads.

Gatti ’s col­leagues, mean­while, are in­ves­ti­gat­ing which other forms of ex­er­cise max­i­mize leg mus­cle ac­ti­va­tion while min­i­miz­ing stress on the joint. They’ve found pre­lim­i­nary ev­i­dence that squatand lunge-based yoga moves such as the god­dess and war­rior strike the right bal­ance. While there are no sim­ple an­swers, the take­away for now is to keep do­ing what­ever forms of ex­er­cise re­main com­fort­able, in­clud­ing run­ning, and when nec­es­sary look for lower-im­pact al­ter­na­tives.

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