Versus Arthritis Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis
University of Nottingham

Running 'may reduce knee inflammation and protect against osteoarthritis'

Published by Arthritis Research UK | 13 December 2016

People who run regularly may actually be reducing the risk of inflammation in their knee joints and protecting themselves against the onset of osteoarthritis.

This is according to a new study from Brigham Young University in the US, which has challenged established assumptions that long-distance running increases wear and tear on the knee joints by suggesting the opposite is in fact true.

How running can benefit joint health

For this study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, inflammatory markers in the knee joint fluid of several healthy men and women aged 18 to 35 were measured both before and after a running session.

It was found that two cytokines named GM-CSF and IL-15, which are common markers of knee joint inflammation, actually decreased in concentration after 30 minutes of running, whereas levels stayed the same when the subjects were not running.

This offers evidence that running could be considered chondroprotective, meaning exercise can help to delay the onset of degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis.

Defying conventional assumptions

One of the main reasons this study could be groundbreaking is because it has long been assumed that the physical stress exerted on the joints during running means these kinds of exercise are actively bad for the knees.

The new research indicates that for young, healthy individuals at least, exercise can create an anti-inflammatory environment that is good for long-term joint health. Further research is now being planned to see if the same is true for subjects with previous knee injuries.

Study co-author Matt Seeley, associate professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University, said: "It flies in the face of intuition. This idea that long-distance running is bad for your knees might be a myth.

"This study does not indicate that distance runners are any more likely to get osteoarthritis than any other person; instead, this study suggests exercise can be a type of medicine."

Arthritis Research UK's view

Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: "The benefits of exercise on bones and cardiovascular health, as well as weight management, are well known. This is interesting research highlighting the potential health benefits running can have by lowering markers of inflammation in knee joints.

"More than four million people in the UK are affected by osteoarthritis of the knee, and Arthritis Research UK are investing in the best science we can to make everyday life better for people affected by it. For example, we are funding research at the centre for sports exercise and osteoarthritis, which aims to provide people with evidence-based advice and information about taking part in sports and exercise.

"Through research like this, we hope to get a better understanding of ways to exercise safely and prevent joint problems that could lead to osteoarthritis."

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Posted on Tuesday 13th December 2016