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Running Might Be Good for Your Knees After All

running-and-kneesOne of the most common myths around running is the toll it can take on your knees as you get older. Both runner and non-runners generally promote the claim that  exercise causes the cartilage around your joints to deteriorate, leading to arthritis and possibly necessitating treatment by an orthopedic surgeon. However, recent research has shown that it can actually be beneficial for your body and joints, warding off arthritis in the future. Researchers from Brigham Young University have found that running changes the joint’s biochemical environment so it functions better, longer.

 Various studies have followed runners throughout lengthy periods of time to determine that they are less likely to develop osteoarthritis than their non-runner peers, but until now, why this is has only been conjecture. Experts speculated this was due to a lower body mass putting less strain on the knees, but little work had been done to isolate the impacts of running on joint health.

The team at BYU studied fifteen male and female volunteers, all of whom were runners, under 30, and had no history of arthritis. The researchers collected a small amount of blood and synovial fluid, a fluid that lubricates joints, from each volunteer — the healthier the joint, the lower the amount of synovial fluid present. They also looked at specific substances within the knee, including cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP), usually a marker of arthritis and present in higher levels in unhealthy knees, and other inflammatory molecules.

The volunteers ran for 30 minutes and sat for the same period, each session occurring on separate days. When the volunteers ran, higher COMP levels were observed in the blood than the synovial fluid, indicating that exercise pushed the substance into their blood and out of the joint. However, when sitting for only 30 minutes, the amount of COMP and inflammatory molecules was raised.

This suggests that even half an hour of exercise alters the knee, lowering inflammation and substances that indicate arthritis. However, sitting for that same amount of time also changes the knee, and not for the better. It could make the joints biochemically more vulnerable to diseases in the future.

The researchers, who published their findings in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, hope to study older or injured runners to see if their knees have fundamental differences from young, healthy joints, and how running might impact them.

Is joint pain impacting your ability to exercise? Interested in learning more about total knee replacement or non-surgical alternatives? Contact Dr. Stickney, a Kirkland orthopedic surgeon, today.


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