It is a commonly held belief that continuing to run in middle and older age causes osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee and hip joints.
But is this true?
Well, before this year the answer to this question was still unclear, but recently a study was published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery which provides a few answers.
So, what did they find?
The study surveyed 675 American marathon runners aged between 18-79 years, with a mean age of 48 and an average weekly running distance of 58 kilometres. The researchers then compared this group with a matched group in the United States from the National Centre for Health Statistics.
Firstly, let’s consider that there are people out there aged 79 who still run marathons, which is remarkable in itself! The study found that arthritis prevalence in the marathon runners was around 8.8%, and this was significantly lower than the matched U.S. population which had a rate of 17.9%. They subsequently found that there was no significant risk associated with running duration, intensity, distance, or number of marathons completed and the development of knee and hip arthritis. Obviously, some of this correlation could be due to the marathon running population being healthier and weighing less than the general population, which could result in a lower prevalence of knee or hip osteoarthritis.
The researchers concluded that age, family history (influenced by genetics and shared lifestyle factors), and surgical history independently predicted an increased risk for knee and hip OA in active marathoners, but this had no correlation with their running history.
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It is important to remember that correlation does not equate to causation and a longitudinal follow-up study would be required to help determine whether the effects of marathon running had an influence on future development of hip and knee arthritis.
So, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to limit running mileage or intensity as we age, at least for our hip or knee’s sake. Although if you are having hip or knee issues, it might be best to follow up with your physiotherapist for further guidance.