Marathoner’s knees


Ev­ery marathoner has faced the ques­tion: Aren’t you wor­ried that run­ning all that way will ruin your knees? For­tu­nately, stud­ies over the years have thor­oughly de­bunked that no­tion. If any­thing, healthy run­ners are slightly less likely to de­velop knee os­teoarthri­tis than com­pa­ra­ble non-run­ners. But that’s not much con­so­la­tion for those who do end up de­vel­op­ing knee prob­lems that in­ter­fere with their run­ning. Once the car­ti­lage in your knee has started to de­gen­er­ate, the joint no longer works the way it’s sup­posed to – and it’s rea­son­able to won­der whether con­tin­u­ing to run on it will has­ten the knee’s demise.

Un­til now, there has been very lit­tle re­search on the ef­fects of run­ning with os­teoarthri­tis, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for doc­tors to give ad­vice. But a new study in the jour­nal Clinical Rheuma­tol­ogy by Grace Lo of the Bay­lor Col­lege of Medicine in Hous­ton, Texas, of­fers some en­cour­ag­ing news. Lo and her col­leagues fol­lowed 1,203 older adults with knee os­teoarthri­tis, of whom 138 were run­ners, assess­ing how much their con­di­tion pro­gressed over a four-year pe­riod. Con­trary to their ex­pec­ta­tions, those who con­tin­ued to run didn’t have any worse de­te­ri­o­ra­tion com­pared to non-run­ners, and in fact were more likely to have their symp­toms im­prove.

Don’t get car­ried away, though. The run­ners weren’t given carte blanche to run as much as they wanted. In fact, they weren’t given any spe­cific in­struc­tions, so they were pre­sum­ably guided by their symp­toms and by com­mon sense. That prob­a­bly in­volves ad­just­ing your run­ning rou­tine – run­ning shorter, slower or less fre­quently – de­pend­ing on how your knees are feel­ing. But it sug­gests that if you’re able to find a rou­tine that doesn’t cause your symp­toms to f lare up, you can run with­out ac­cel­er­at­ing the pro­gres­sion of os­teoarthri­tis. Re­spected sports science writer Alex Hutchin­son’s lat­est book, En­dure: Mind, Body, and the Cu­ri­ously Elas­tic Lim­its of Hu­man Per­for­mance, is avail­able now.

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