Can You Run If You Have Arthritis?
When arthritis is caused by a structural degeneration at the joint, it is called osteoarthritis. In the case of runners, it happens most commonly at the knee and hip. It is accompanied by the loss or erosion of bone and cartilage tissue surrounding the joint and/ or inflammation at the joint. It occurs when the growth of tissue cannot keep up with its breakdown.
Osteoarthritis is caused by the inability of the joint to handle mechanical stress or loading. Such excessive loading can occur for reasons such as weak muscles that support the joints, injury at the joint, misalignment such as knock knees or bow legs, or excessive weight.
In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by your immune system attacking your joints or different parts of the body. It is not just specific to the joint as in osteoarthritis, but can cause pain and inflammation to different organs in the body.
In case of high-impact activities such as running, once you have developed osteoarthritis, it is important to reduce the intensity if you would like to continue running. You would also need to run on soft surfaces such as a synthetic track, sand, or grass. Attempting to do high mileage or participate in marathons is not prescribed since this may allow the progression of articular degeneration.
How can you keep running with osteoarthritis?
Always start with a good warm-up
Breaking into a sweat by elevating core temperature will help the arteries open up and blood flow to be enhanced. It will also increase the temperature in the joint, allowing lower stress when movement occurs.
Also read: Stretches for Runners: Dynamic vs Static Stretching
Cut back on your training
If you were running five days a week, it is a good idea to cut back to just three days. Eliminate all speed work from training. Avoid downhill running since the impact is even more pronounced when compared to running on flat surfaces.
Run on soft surfaces
Make a transition to grass, dirt trail, sand or synthetic track. These surfaces are a lot easier on the joints as compared to concrete or asphalt where the ground reaction forces are much higher.
Change your footwear
In order to reduce the impact on the joints, it is important to use better cushioned shoes. Get rid of minimalist footwear and avoid barefoot running as these do not absorb the shock at foot strike.
Shorten your stride
Check your stride to see if your foot lands under the hips. Over-striding causes large shock waves to move up the leg and to the knee and hip joints. If you focus on shortening your stride, the impact will be a lot lower.
Cross-train on alternate days
Switch up your training by doing cross-training on the day after your run. Since weakness in the quads and glutes is a major reason for excessive joint loads at the knee and hip, doing strength training will benefit your condition. So too, will flexibility training through yoga and Pilates.
Also read: Why Is Cross Training Important for Distance Runners?
Ensure anti-inflammatory foods in your diet
Anti-inflammatory foods reduce the chances of inflammation and a consequent flare-up in your condition, especially when you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Foods like spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, colorful berries like blueberries, raspberries, avocados, and an assortment of nuts and spices like ginger and turmeric are known to reduce inflammation.
Exercise plays an important role in managing both osteoarthritis as well as rheumatoid arthritis. The key is to use a variety of activities to provide a balance in strength and flexibility for the whole body along with the measures outlined above. It is important to work with your doctor and physiotherapist to develop a rehab program that works for your specific condition because the extent of arthritis may differ with each individual.
1. Hunter DJ, Eckstein F. Exercise and osteoarthritis. J Anat 2009; 214: 197-207.
2. Ask the doctor: Jogging and arthritis. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/ask-the-doctor-jogging-and-arthritis (accessed May 15, 2021).