Osteoarthritis affects about 21 million people in the United States alone. It is a degenerative disease caused by wear and tear on joints, leading to the breakdown of cartilage that cushions the joint. As it gets worse, the bones may actually rub on each other as the joint moves, causing pain, stiffness, swelling and inflammation. Many people are concerned about protecting their joints, and think they should steer clear of exercises, such as running, that they believe puts too much stress on the joints.
Does Running Ruin Joints?
Though excessive running and overtraining can definitely damage joints, running has been unnecessarily vilified. According to research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, runners did not have a higher propensity of developing osteoarthritis, and sometimes even had healthier joints and less need for hip replacements later in life. This may be because exercise, done smartly, can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, and staves off weight gain that is well known to place extreme stress on joints.
Besides obesity, the other prime risk factor for osteoarthritis is age, and is also largely determined by genetics. So whether you are a runner or not, your chance of developing osteoarthritis increases as you age.
Does the Shoe Matter?
Interestingly, according to the Journal of Injury, Function and Rehabilitation, barefoot running is better for joints than conventional running shoes. The study found that wearing running shoes can put up to 38% more stress on the knee joint due to increase in torque. But, don’t throw away your shoes just yet. Other podiatric specialists believe that the study is “much ado about nothing” and although wearing running shoes showed an increase in joint forces, it does not necessarily lead to more injury or development of arthritis.
There has been a barefoot running trend that has developed over several years, with some companies even developing special shoes that mimic bare feet, but it is all a matter of personal preference and what feels most comfortable for each individual runner. Obviously, running completely barefoot can lead to a whole host of other dangers regarding foot injuries from stepping on sharp objects.
So, we consider running innocent and cleared of all charges if done smartly. Physical activity has proven time and again to be a great way to strengthen the muscles that surround joints and to maintain good ranges of joint motion. If you want to decrease your chance of developing arthritis, you can’t change your genes, but you can maintain a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise to prevent the worst foe of joints—obesity.