Not running will ruin your knees

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The annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is taking place right now, and a press release describes five studies looking at the link between obesity and knee arthritis. There’s nothing particularly earth-shattering here, but I just like to highlight news like this because I still sometimes hear people who say they’d like to run but don’t want to ruin their knees — an idea that has been pretty firmly debunked.

“Other studies have looked at the effect that a combination of weight loss, diet and exercise had on knee arthritis, but it was difficult to say which of these factors contributed the most to reducing knee pain,” says Christopher Edwards, co-investigator and a fourth year medical student at the Penn State College of Medicine. “Our study should send a message to patients, health care providers, and payers that weight loss is an important consideration in the treatment of knee arthritis.”

That being said, it’s not as simple and obvious as you might think. The additional weight of being obese certainly puts extra load on joints — but there’s also evidence that fat tissue secretes inflammatory hormones that make joint problems worse. My wife is actually doing some research in this area at the moment… so if there are any big breakthroughs, I’ll keep you posted!

7 Replies to “Not running will ruin your knees”

  1. You wouldn’t happen to have the Pubmed links to the papers on fat tissue secreting inflammatory hormones by any chance? I am working on my PhD right now in inflammation, and that sounds like a good topic for my next Journal club talk :).

  2. From the article you linked: “One drawback with both studies is selection bias. The runners in both cases were committed recreational runners who had a history of being able to run without serious problems.”

    I agree it’s important that people know that weight loss and exercise are better for your knees than not exercising and staying overweight. But running might not be the best exercise for a lot of people, or at least not until they’ve lost weight and gained physical fitness in other areas. But then I’ve known plenty of overweight people who took up running with no knee problems whatsoever. Only thing was those people didn’t lose weight whereas walking/cycling programs seemed to help them lose weight better. Though that’s all anecdotal, I’m sure there are some studies out there pointing people in the right direction.

  3. Dustin — sorry for the delayed reply. I don’t know the literature that well, but here’s a paper on the topic picked more or less at random: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18312558. I’ll ask my wife if she has a lit review or any particular recommendations.

    FrauTech — I definitely agree that running isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. There are plenty of forms of exercise that will do equally well, depending on taste. For someone who’s already obese, running would indeed carry some extra risks compared to a lower-impact activity like cycling. (For someone of normal weight who’s trying to avoid becoming obese, that’s less of an issue.)

    As for whether walking or cycling actually works better than running for weight loss, I haven’t seen any evidence that that’s the case — but it’s a very controversial topic with no consensus!

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