Can I Run With Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

By  //  September 22, 2021

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Osteoarthritis is considered a barrier preventing an athlete or a runner from participating in physical activities and running. It is commonly believed that activities like running, cycling, or jogging regularly can damage the knees and can cause osteoarthritis. However, recent studies give evidence that this is a mere misconception, and running does not cause or worsen the symptoms of osteoarthritis. On the contrary, such physical activities help in maintaining joint strength and health. 

You can run despite having osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions that affect our knees, and it is scientifically linked to obesity, heredity, and joint injuries or trauma. There is no medical evidence that proves that osteoarthritis is caused by running.

The condition means that the cartilage in the knees is thinning and the cushioning in the joint is disappearing. This leads to pain and inflammation in the knees. 

It is a common misconception among the masses that running is bad for our knees. The truth is that physical activities like walking and running keep our joints and bones strong and healthy rather than weakening them.  Recent research with arthritis patients as participants proved that running did not make the symptoms of the patient worse and did not cause any progression in the condition. In fact, it was found that running helped some participants manage their joint pain. 

Does running make osteoarthritis worse?

Osteoarthritis is not caused by running. It is a myth that knees are weakened and worn off by running regularly, and there is close to no evidence that proves that running causes or makes arthritis more severe. On the contrary, several studies have shown that runners have less knee pain than people who don’t run.

The ability of the joints to recover from load and strain is affected by disorders like arthritis, and such disorders don’t allow you to run as you did normally. If you are experiencing symptoms like pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the knees, talk to our doctor immediately and alter your running frequency, volume and intensity.


Should runners with osteoarthritis change their lifestyle or training? 

Several factors need to be taken into account while addressing the pain, inflammation, and immobility of knee joints of runners.  One of the most important things that need to be done is to shift the stress across the knee. This could imply a change in schedule and lifestyle. Your doctor will suggest that you change your running form and shoes. For instance, a heel striker will find some relief if their landing is cushioned on the toes or midfoot. 

Learning running form is possible with the help of a running coach or a trained physical therapist. This could help in reducing the impact on the affected knee. Once a runner starts resting because of pain in the knees, the situation elevates rather quickly.

The pain worsens and the knees become stiff and inflamed and returning to running becomes excruciatingly painful. Strengthening your core, hips, legs, and pelvis is of paramount importance to keep your joints healthy and strong. Weakness in the hip and pelvic bones can lead to pain in the knees for even those who don’t suffer from osteoarthritis. Therefore, practicing strength and core-building exercises can go a long way in managing symptoms of joint pain. 

What to do if knee pain is too severe to run? 

If you are unable to run because of severe arthritis and joint pain and wish to resume running after treatment, you should look at options other than total knee replacement.

Knee replacement surgery or knee arthroplasty successfully eliminates symptoms of arthritis-like joint pain, stiffness, and immobility, but won’t allow most people to return to running. Because of this, a tibial osteotomy is preferred to knee replacement in some cases.

Runners who develop osteoarthritis often undergo tibial osteotomy to treat their symptoms and continue running later on. 

Will I need a knee replacement sooner if I run with an arthritic knee?

Joints in our body are not machine parts that wear out with use. There is a constant cycle of wear and repair in our joints at all times. Our joints, including knees, require some strain and load to stay healthy and functional.

The cartilage in our joints responds to such activities and keeps our bones strong. Therefore, running is not a harmful activity and will not lead to arthritis.

For your assistance, some simple rules and principles that you should keep in mind during workouts and running are listed as follows. 

■ Don’t skip the warm-up and cool down before and after each workout or running session. 

■ Start with short distances and move on to longer distances gradually. You could increase distance by 10% every week so that your joints become used to the training load. 

■ Get proper running shoes to avoid foot-aches or problems with foot positioning. 

■ Practice some core exercises for a stable platform and core to avoid injuries. 

Feeling a little tired and having some aches and pains after exercising. But sharp pains and prolonged cramps are not normal. If you experience pain that doesn’t settle easily after running or cycling a little, talk to your doctor about it.

Tips to treat knee pain caused due to osteoarthritis

Arthritis pain can be handled in several ways. The treatment alternatives listed below will improve your overall well-being while helping you manage joint pain caused by arthritis. However, before commencing any treatment plans, you should talk to your doctor. It should also be kept in mind that the success of such treatment varies with every patient, and these may not be effective for all. 

Stretches- Simple stretches can help you reduce arthritis pain. Stretching can be done before or after any strenuous activity or whenever your muscles and joints feel stiff.  However, you should not continue if the pain worsens. 

Medication- Painkillers like  Advil and Tylenol are easily available and can help manage arthritis pain. Some people also use glucosamine supplements to ease arthritis pains. Glucosamine is generally safe, but you should talk to your doctor before you start using it.

Heat and cold therapy- Heat and cold therapy is a simple but effective way that can help ease Arthritis pain. Cold therapy gives immediate relief after exercise. You can buy ice packs from local pharmacies or use frozen vegetable bags. Heat therapy can be taken with the help of fomentation bottles and with a steam bath. You should be cautious with both the therapies as improper use of them can worsen your condition.  

Physiotherapy- Physical therapy is a great option for treating arthritis knee pain. A trained physical therapist can help you in managing the symptoms of arthritis by examining your knees and formulating a physiotherapy treatment plan consisting of exercises, stretches, and lifestyle changes. 

Injections- In some advanced and severe arthritis cases, patients may require knee joint injections for relief. The type and frequency of the injection will vary with severity and type of Arthritis. Cortisone injections are one of the several injective treatment options which your doctor could recommend, and are successful in providing relief temporarily. However, such injections don’t come without potential side effects. Therefore, you should consider physical therapy and other conservative methods before turning to injections for pain relief. 

Surgery- If conservative treatment methods fail to provide relief from arthritis symptoms, your doctor will recommend knee arthroplasty, also known as knee replacement surgery. It is a surgical procedure that replaces the damaged parts of the knee with artificial implants.  Plastic and metal implants are commonly used to cap the ends of the bones of the joint. Total knee replacement is recommended in severe cases of injury or arthritis that cannot be managed nonsurgically and is very successful in eliminating symptoms like pain, stiffness, and immobility. 

Final Words

Running with arthritis has been a matter of doubt and controversy. Traditionally, it was believed that running can cause arthritis as running strains knees. But it has come to light recently that such opinions are not backed with scientific and medical data. People who run and don’t run regularly are equally susceptible to arthritis.