15:32 PM

Northwestern Medicine study finds no direct link between running and knee and hip arthritis

Study included survey of 3,800 runners from the 2019 and 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathons


CHICAGO – There has been a belief that long-term running may lead to arthritis in joints. But a new study from Northwestern Medicine found no direct link between running and arthritis in knee and hip joints. 

The study surveyed about 3,800 runners from the 2019 and 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathons, seeking to find out if there is a relationship between running and arthritis in the knees and hips.

“What we found was that the incidents or prevalence of arthritis in these running athletes was far less than what we expected,” said Vehniah Tjong, MD, an orthopaedic sports medicine surgeon at Northwestern Medicine and one of the study’s authors. “Based on our study questionnaire, there was no direct link between running history and the risk for arthritis. These results are encouraging because running and cross training can be quite good for you and may not be detrimental to your joints, if they’re doing it the right way”

While previous studies have included elite-level runners, Northwestern Medicine’s study included runners who ran their first marathon up to runners who have competed in 50 or more marathons. Participants completed an average of 9.5 marathons, with most of the runners (54 percent) running less than five. 

The study asked participants for any family history of arthritis, hip or knee pain, surgical history and their running-related history. The researchers also asked if the participants if they have been told they have arthritis and if they were advised by a doctor to stop or reduce their running.

In the general population, and especially the older population, arthritis can be present about a quarter of the time. But the study – which was presented at the annual American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ annual meeting in Las Vegas in March – found in the marathon runners, it was around seven percent. 

“We know from previous literature that family history, body mass index, previous surgeries or injuries — even outside the context of running – can predict a likelihood to develop arthritis,” Tjong said. “We were reassured when our study also confirmed these as risk factors. It matched with the pre-existing literature and had nothing to do with the running history at all.”

The average age of the participants was around 44 – ranging from 18 to 83 - with participants running for a mean of 14.7 years, a mean of 28 miles per week and at an average pace of 8 minutes and 52 seconds per mile.

“The message about this study is challenging that current dogma,” Tjong said. “Especially for health care providers and the general population that running isn’t always that bad. In fact, there’s a lot of good that come from it.”