Helping You To Live Life!
Is Running Bad For Your Joints

Is Running Bad For Your Joints?

Do you live in Ottawa, and asking the question, is running bad for your joints?

If so, you are in the right place.

Today, I will talk about whether running bad for your joints.

Even better, I will see what the latest science has to say.

Let’s jump in by looking at what a joint is.

What is a joint?

A joint is a part of the body where two or more bones meet.

Cartilage is smooth tissue material that covers the ends of your bones.

In a healthy joint, cartilage allows the ends of bones to move or glide over each other so we can move our bodies.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when there are changes to both the cartilage and the bone underneath.

Not all osteoarthritic joints are symptomatic, but some can experience joint pain, stiffness and swelling.

Can the body adapt?

Because cartilage does not have a good blood supply, we once thought that this tissue could adapt.

If we lift weights, will our muscles get smaller and weaker? No, they will get bigger and stronger.

So, what will happen if you run? Will your knees get damaged?

What Does The Research Say?

Some old animal studies said that compressing cartilage repeatedly could lead to damage. 

Therefore, doing so with a greater force also led to more damage.

Many of these studies were outside the body or in vivo and did not represent how joints move in humans.

A more recent study from 2021 found that:

  • People who experience higher and more unbalanced forces in the knee joint during walking are at greater risk of progression of OA.
  • However, it was unclear if greater forces led to OA.

Unfortunately, we do not have much research on the effects of running and OA.

What are the most common areas of injuries in joints?

A recent review paper concluded that the number one area for an injury in runners was the knee; the second was the foot and ankle, and the third was the lower leg.

Based on these findings, they are primarily joint-type injuries; running is bad for your joints.

What Are The Perceptions About Running And Developing OA in The Knee Joint?

A recent study in 2021 asked the general public and health professionals if running once or twice weekly is bad for your knees.

In general, both the general population and healthcare providers felt that running once or twice weekly was good for the knee joints.

When asked if running more frequently was terrible, both said not so good for your knee joints.

When asked about running long distances such as marathons, both said it was worse than more frequent running.

Finally, they asked if running on hard surfaces was detrimental to knee joints. The findings showed that running on hard surfaces was even worse than running long distances.

Based on these findings, the researchers decided to review the current literature and determine whether running is bad for your knees.

Is Running Bad For Your Joints?

The review paper’s specific objective was to summarize running’s influence on the cartilage in the leg through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

So for all subjects in the studies, scans were done on the joints of their legs.

They were then told to run over a specific amount of time, and then they had a repeat MRI to look for changes to the cartilage.

What Were The Results Of This Review?

An important take-home of the paper was that cartilage tends to recover quickly.

More specifically, the researchers found:

  • Structural changes after running to cartilage are temporary.
  • Cartilage recovers well after a single run.
  • Generally, there are no cartilage changes after a running program or years of running.
  • For people with healthy joints, running does not damage cartilage.

What Does This Mean?

The practical take-home messages from this review were as follows:

  • Runners with healthy joints should not be scared of damaging cartilage in the knee, ankle or foot.
  • Cartilage in experienced runners is more tolerant or less affected by running.
  • Even ultra-distance running may be well-tolerated by experienced runners.
  • At the time of the study, no research looked at the hip. However, a study published in 2021 concluded no detrimental effects on the hip cartilage after four months of running.

Does Running Cause Osteoarthritis (OA)?

In a 2017 review paper looking at the prevalence of hip and knee OA in competitive, recreational runners and non-runners, the following results were found:

  • Competitive runners* – 13.3%
  • Non-runners – 10.2%
  • Recreational runners – 3.5%

* Competitive runners were those competing in European, Olympic and Word Championships.

The take-home point from this study is that recreational running is safe for be with healthy joints.

Does Running Lead To Joint Replacement?

In a 2017 review paper looking at running and knee OA, the researchers concluded that running has a protective effect on the risk of joint replacement surgery.

Why Are Some Runners More Prone To OA or Cartilage Damage?

The reason for this may come from the idea that:

“The body adapts as Lon as the applied stress is not greater than its capacity to adapt.”

So, competitive runners may be more inclined to push their bodies too far to achieve specific goals, increasing their risk of injury and joint damage.

Does The Cartilage In Your Joints Adapt To Running?

In a 1997 paper on cartilage adaption and running, the researchers concluded that:

  • Repeated compressions are necessary to maintain healthy cartilage.
  • Running is a great way to keep healthy joints.
  • At worst, running is not harmful to people with healthy joints.
  • Movement is medicine!

Another study in 2010 also looked at cartilage and running. Half the young healthy participants were given a learn-to-run program in this study, and the other half remained sedentary. 

All the participants were given an MRI of their knees at the study’s start and end.

The researchers found that the runners had stronger cartilage at the end of the study.

What About Older Runners?

A 2008 study looked at the development of OA in older runners. 

The study had older people with an average age of 45, of which 45 were runners, and 53 were sedentary. 

The researchers took x-rays of the participant’s knees at the beginning of the study and again 18 years later.

At the end of the 18 years, 6 of the 45 runners had developed OA compared to 17 of the sedentary participants.

So the clinical takeaway from this study is that older runners are less likely to develop OA of the knee.

Does Running Make OA Of The Knee Worse?

In a 2018 study looking at the effect of running on people with OA.

The study had 138 runners and 1113 sedentary people.

The researchers took x-rays of the participant’s knees at the beginning of the study and again four years later.

At the end of the four years, the researchers found no difference in x-ray findings in the runners and non-runners.

They also found that the runners with OA had less frequent knee pain at the end of the four years.

What Are The Recommendations For Novice/Recreational Runners?

If you are concerned about developing knee joint OA, you should do the following:

  • Run more often but not as far
  • Be consistent with your training
  • Listen to your body, especially if you are new to running.
  • Pick your running group wisely
  • If you take a break due to illness, then build up slowly.
  • Ensure you get plenty of sleep and recovery time
  • Vary your activities

What About If You Have An Injury?

If you have an injury, then you must avoid complete rest.

Do some exercise such as cross-training, pool running and resistance training.

Avoid exercise that increases the pain.

Changing your gait can help with recovery, including cadence and running softly.

Changing your shoe to a more minimalist shoe can help reduce the load on the joint.

What about If You Have OA?

If you have OA and want to run, then you should consider the following recommendations:

  • If there is swelling around the joint after running, you should consider another activity, such as walking or cycling.
  • If there is an increase in symptoms during running, then again, consider another exercise.
  • You should notice a return to pre-running symptoms within one hour.
  • No increase in symptoms the next day.
  • No limping.
  • Run more frequently but shorter distances.

In Conclusion

Load your joints to keep them healthy – Exercise is good for cartilage.

Listen to your body and increase your running gradually.

If running hurts, consider reducing, adapting, or consulting a healthcare practitioner instead of quitting.

If you are healthy and have no pain but are concerned about developing OA, keep running or start running.

Recreational running is NOT bad for your joints

Now It’s Time To Hear From You

Are you concerned that running is bad for your joints?

Do you have OA and are worrying you are making things worse?

Let me know in the comments below.

Do you need help?

If you live in Ottawa and want extra help, I suggest you book a free osteopathy discovery session to discuss whether I can help.


The information provided on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply this information without first speaking with your doctor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *