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Will Running Cause Arthritis?
The Results May be a Little Surprising

by Larry Smith, D.C., B.P.E.

A topic of current debate is the controversy of whether or not running will eventually cause joints to become arthritic. The answer patients get when they ask their doctor varies from a definite yes to a definite no. Many runners also get unsolicited advice from many of their neighborhood pals ranging from complimentary to downright derogatory comments. My favorite comment came from a young male sporting a "Molson's Tumor" and smoking a Mexican pharmaceutical cigarette who told me that I was going to kill myself if I kept on exercising so much!

Many health professionals say that continued pounding will damage joints while others state that it is the stress running that will keep joint tissue healthy. Until recently, there was very little research to support either opinion. However, with the aid of my very elementary computer skills, I was able to navigate the internet and found a very interesting paper written by Dr. Lyle Michelli at the department of Orthopedics at Harvard medical school in Boston. Dr. Michelli compared the frequency of degenerative arthritis in 504 former collegiate long distance runners with that of 287 former collegiate swimmers. Swimmers were chosen as the comparison group, because doctors who try to discourage people from running often suggest swimming as an alternative.

Surprisingly, the frequency of degenerative arthritis was lower in former long-distance runners than in former swimmers ( 2.4% in swimmers versus only 2.0 % in runners). As an indication of the severity of the arthritis, Dr. Michelli also recorded the number in each group who had arthritis severely enough to have required surgery. The need for related surgery was 3 times greater in swimmers.

These findings lead Dr. Michelli to state, "There is no association to moderate long distance running and the future development of osteoarthritis." These findings do not indicate that running is for everyone. In certain individuals, running may be intolerable and just not fun for a myriad of health and other social or family related factors. The important fact is that some form of exercise such as running, swimming, low impact aerobics, brisk walking, bicycling, dancing, etc. is essential to good health. Each individual should choose the form of aerobic exercise which they enjoy and then participate regularly.

If you prefer a form of exercise other than running, that's perfectly acceptable. However, if you want to run don't be fooled the opinion that it leads to arthritis (especially if the advice comes from a person sporting a healthy Molson's tumor).

About Larry Smith
Dr. Larry Smith is a doctor of chiropractic who practices in Parksville, British Columbia. Larry is currently a member of ORCA and previously competed in gymnastics for five years at the University of Manitoba. For any questions regarding running and/or sports injuries, Larry can be contacted at:

phone: 250-248-6333
web page: Dr. Larry's Chiropractic Home Page

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