My X-ray shows I have arthritis in my knee, do I need to stop running?
This is a question that physiotherapists are asked quite frequently. Often people think that excessive or repetitive running can cause arthritis, so surely running or exercising when someone already has arthritis is a bad idea? According to latest research this is not actually the case. Read on for some key points to help answer this question.
1. What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a disease of the joint, and is characterised by a reduction of cartilage, which provides cushioning to the bones. This happens gradually, although people can have flare-ups. It often results in pain, stiffness (particularly in mornings), swelling and clicking. Whilst many associate a bit of joint stiffness with getting older, not everyone will develop arthritis as it is not a normal ageing process.
There are many risk factors that may contribute to the development of arthritis and it often coexists with other health concerns. If poorly managed, arthritic symptoms can prevent individuals from best managing a variety of chronic conditions, leading to reduced quality of life. It’s important to recognise early signs, so these can be better managed from the outset.
2. About Diagnosis:
X-Rays have traditionally been used to help diagnose arthritis, however these days arthritis is primarily a clinical diagnosis (meaning it can be diagnosed by a clinician without imaging/scans). Research has found the information gained from imaging doesn’t often relate to your function or what you feel. Some will have changes on an MRI or X-Ray that they are completely unaware of, and others may experience more significant difficulties than their imaging suggests. Therefore, a suspicious-looking X-Ray without correlating symptoms is no cause for alarm.
3. So, what about running?
The good news is there is fantastic evidence supporting exercise and weight management as fundamental to successful treatment. Specifically, it is advised that you must exercise regularly enough, and at an appropriate intensity to improve strength in supporting muscles. Exercise should also target cardiovascular fitness, balance and agility.
It may sound counterintuitive but loading your cartilage in your joints throughout their range of motion is essential for cartilage health. Trials have looked at the long-term outcome of ongoing impact activity in runners diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and athletes following ACL reconstruction (a high-risk group) over several years. Reassuringly, ongoing participation in running was associated with improved symptoms, as opposed to more rapid deterioration. Furthermore, those who continued participation in their chosen sport (ie soccer) following ACL reconstructions, demonstrated outstanding outcomes in both symptoms and radiological progression (what they see on an X-ray) after more than ten years when compared to those who stopped their chosen sport.
It is clear that maintaining regular exercise that focuses on weight bearing, strength, balance and agility is paramount in successful management of arthritis. While running may not be a feasible option for everyone, an arthritis diagnosis on its own, is not necessarily a reason to stop.
When it comes to exercising, it can be hard to know what to do, how much and for how long, especially if you are worried about injury, a health condition, or increasing your symptoms. If you (or someone you know) suffers from arthritis and would like further advice and guidance on exercise best suited to your condition, an assessment with a Physiotherapist can help identify individual risk factors, plus develop a comprehensive exercise management plan. If you would like to book in with one of our practitioners, please book online, or contact our friendly team.
Written by Physiotherapist, Rosie Moore