Thursday, April 06, 2006

Running: There is Good News and Bad News

Many people I've talked to suspect that too much long distance running may cause arthritis in knee and hip joints. I have wondered about it, too.

Both my daughter and I have taught exercise classes in health clubs and have talked about the high number of distance runners we've met in our classes with knee, back or hip problems. We both think that overuse injuries may be more common among long distance runners than most other exercisers.

However, dedicated runners and joggers may be pleased to know that somebody with an M.D. after his name, an orthopedic surgeon to be exact (Nicholas DiNubile, M.D.), says that running does not cause arthritis. On the other hand, he says if you have arthritic knees or hips -- running will make things worse.

I used to be a distance runner myself, although never a very fast one. I enjoyed it and ran distances up to 15 miles. Yet, it seemed to me that too many runner acquaintances developed chronic joint aches and pains. So I naturally wondered if all those miles and prolonged pounding on their joints was the cause.

I can't be sure, either way. But I have to assume the doctor’s statements about running are based on scientific study, while my thoughts represent only my limited personal observations and a "gut feeling" about it. Yet this much I know: Running is a high impact activity generating forces five to seven times body weight on your knees and hips. So it is perfectly reasonable to ask, can this be beneficial after one reaches the age of 50, 60, 70 or more?

Personally, I rarely run for long distances anymore, so you know what I think. For cardio these days, I hike, a lot of it uphill, and do occasional sprints. If the weather is really bad, I'll go to the gym and hop on a treadmill or recumbent bike. Usually, I'll do sprint intervals, and I rarely stay on any apparatus over 25 minutes, and that includes my warm-up and cool down. I do not have arthritis; but my intuition tells me that the endless pace and pounding of long slow distance running is not such a good thing to do at my age.

My running friends probably disagree with me and would tell about somebody 80 years old or more still doing marathons. I wouldn't doubt them, and to each his own. If distance running or jogging is enjoyable and you have no arthritic problems, I say, fine. Go ahead and do it. But anyone experiencing chronic joint aches and pains should consider what the orthopedic doctor said: running will make arthritic knees or hips worse. If you are having chronic joint pain, find out if arthritis is the reason for it. If it is, switch to aerobic options that will not aggravate your condition.

1 comment:

running42k said...

That was good to read. Personally, I don't think it is the running activity persay but the lack of flexibility that builds up in runners. Myself I took up yoga seven years ago to compliment the running and feel it has made a huge difference.