Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Does Exercise Increase Damage To Your Joints?

Most runners may have heard or read in some way or another through inaccurately written articles that too much exercise may be harmful to their joints. Most of the general community perception is similar too, that too much running or exercise are mostly harmful to joints. Well, all runners (and other athletes) will be real pleased to know that exercise does not cause osteoarthritis (OA) but might actually help to prevent it.

Well, here is the good news, there is actually no strong evidence supporting the fact that regular exercise can cause harmful effects in normal joints (i.e. joints without any pre existing injury) according to a review of studies published in the article cited below.

The review paper was a joint effort between German and American researchers that looked for a relationship between exercise and osteoarthritis which found none, except in elite athletes in sports where they incurred knee injuries. In fact for comparisons between runners and matched controls (who didn't run), the runners were found to have lower rates of OA compared to their sedentary counterparts.

The researchers found that there was a higher likelihood of elite athletes sustaining sports injuries leading to an increased risk of OA in the damaged joints. Count me in, I've had 3 knee operations between 2002-2003 when I was still training and racing. (Thank the good Lord, it was really difficult, but I managed to get back to training and racing at my previous levels and have had no problems ever since). Guess that's where pain free running helps. More info here.
The researchers concluded that for most other people though, vigorous, low-impact exercise is beneficial for both physical and mental benefits.

So, if you do not have any prior existing injury, keep running and exercising. If you do, there's always pain free running.

Hunter DJ and Eckstein F (2009). Exercise And Osteoarthritis. The Journal Of Anatomy 214(2): 197-207.

* In the picture above of a body composition DEXA scan, the brighter areas in lthe ower limb bones correlate to stronger bones.

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