by Rahim Ramji, DPT (Doctor of Physiotherapy), YWCA Fitness Staff Team Member
Running does not cause arthritis, this has been known for quite some time now, but is a common misconception in the general population and medical community. Generally, runners have a much lower chance of developing arthritis compared to non-runners. In fact, running may protect and prevent the knee and hip from developing arthritis. In order to have a better understanding of this, we need to think of it from a biomechanical perspective.
Our bodies are incredibly adaptive, if they were not adaptive then the act of pounding your legs into the ground over and over again through the act of running would most likely lead to degeneration. However, since our bodies are so adaptive, through biochemical reactions our body builds stronger knees and hips (thicker bones, ligaments, tendons, meniscus and muscles.) This means that the act of running can potentially lead to regeneration.
In short, the body responds to physical force by increasing the strength of the tissue that was exposed to this force.
There are lots of tangible real life examples of this: lifting weights causes microtears within the muscles, the body responds by producing bigger, stronger muscles. Working on rough surfaces without gloves with your hands leads to your body developing stronger tougher skin i.e. callouses. More extreme examples typically involve a lot more force, such as breaking a bone. However, once the bone has healed, it will be stronger than it was previously. Our bodies are amazing, and are designed to heal stronger if they are provided with the optimal amount of load, nutrition, and sleep.
Now this is not an article telling you to go run a marathon tomorrow to prevent knee arthritis. Doing so could lead to injuries unless you gradual build up to running long distances. Simply, we are trying to highlight the fact that putting load through your body, such as running, is much more beneficial than it is harmful. It can be a useful tool if you are looking to reduce your risk of developing arthritis.