Sunday, May 5, 2024

Can Cycling Lower Your Risk Of Knee Arthritis?

Picture by Dennis Thong
I have written previously on what causes osteoarthritis (OA). Definitely not because of overuse nor a mechanical wear and tear process. Especially for those without any previous history of knee truma/ injury, there is very good evidence that OA is actually due to metabolic factors. Well, now a new study (Lo et al, 2024) suggests that cyclists are less likely to develop OA in their knees.

Lo et al (2024) studied 2600 older adults with and without knee OA using knee X-rays, subjective knee pain, and a questionnaire regarding their lifetime history of various physical activities during 4 periods of their lifes: 12 to 18 years old, 19 to 34, 35 to 49 and over 50. 

The study used 3 different outcomes. Persistent knee pain, OA based on X-rays (radiographic OA) and symptomatic OA (having both knee pain and radiographic OA. Note that what is seen on X-ray (OA knees) does not always correspond to pain. This means that some subjects had knee radiographic OA but NO pain.

Almost half the subjects reported some history of cycling and these subjects were less likely to have OA in their knees. How much less? Those with any history of cycling were 17 percent less likely to have knee pain, 9 percent less likely to have radiographic OA and 21 percent less likely to have both. 

Half of those who cycled reported only cycling regularly during one of the 4 age periods, usually the youngest age period from 12 to 18 years old.

Those who cycled during 1,2,3 or 4 of the periods studied reduced their risk of symptomatic OA (i.e. painful knees) by 17, 19, 28 and 43 percent. Meaning lifelong cyclists reduced their risk of symptomatic OA by nearly 50 percent.

The researchers also found that subjects with a history of swimmingstrength training and running had lower rates of OA. This is consistent with previous evidence that running DOES NOT ruin your knees despite what every non runner and ex runner you know will insist running does.

You may love watching the beautiful game, but a history of playing the beautiful game (football) even just as a teenager bumped up knee OA risk by a factor of 2. This elevated risk remained even after adjusting for BMI, suggesting that the problem is likely related to acute knee injuries suffered while playing football

Picture by Dennis Thong
The researchers concluded that more cycling is associated with less knee pain and favorable to knee health and should be encouraged. 

If you have never cycled previously and would like to start, do note that almost half or the current or former cyclists in the study had radiographic evidence of OA. A quarter of them had symptomatic OA (painful knees). Is cycling better for OA once you do develop OA compared to say running? Is cycling capable of slowing its progression? Currently, we still do not know.

Those of you who have been always been cycling, you definitely have another reason to do so. 


Lo GH, Richard MJ, Kriska AM et al (2024). Bicyling Over A Lifetime Is Associated With Less Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis : Data From The Osteoarthritis Initiative. Med Sci Sp Ex. DOI: 10.1249/ MSS 0.0000000000003449

All pictures by Dennis Thong. Many thanks to Dennis and Eugene Phua for the pictures.

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