Running with osteoarthritis
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.