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Will Running Cause Arthritis?

(The answer may be a little surprising)

A topic of current debate is the controversy of whether or not running will eventually cause joints to become arthritic. The answer patients receive when they ask their doctor varies from a definite "yes" to a definite "no". Until recently, there was very little research to support either opinion. Runners are also recipients of much unsolicited advice and comments from their neighbourhood pals -- these comments can range from complimentary to downright derogatory. My favorite comment came from a young male sporting a "Molson's Tumor" (beer belly) and smoking a "Mexican Pharmaceutical Cigarette" who told me that I was going to kill myself if I kept on exercising so much!

Many health professionals say that continued pounding will damage joints, while others state that it is the stress of running that will keep joint tissue healthy. However, with the aid of my very elementary computer skills, I was able to navigate the Internet and found a very interesting paper written by Dr. Lyle Michelli at the department of Orthopedics at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Dr. Michelli compared the frequency of degenerative arthritis in 504 former collegiate long distance with that of 287 former college swimmers. Swimmers were chosen as the comparison group because doctors who try to discourage people from running often suggest swimming as an alternative.

Surprisingly, the frequency of degenerative arthritis was lower in former long-distance runners than in former swimmers. (2.4% in swimmers versus only 2.0% in runners.) As an indication of the severity of the arthritis, Dr. Michelli also recorded the number in each group who had arthritis severely enough to have required surgery. The need for related surgery was three times greater in swimmers!

These findings led Dr. Michelli to state, "There is no association to moderate long distance running and the future development of osteoarthritis,"

The findings do not indicate that running is for everyone. In certain individuals, running may be intolerable and just "not fun" for a myriad of other heath, social and /or family related factors. The important fact is that some form of exercise such as running, swimming, low impact aerobics, brisk walking, bicycling, dancing, etc. is essential to good health. Individuals should choose the form, or forms, of aerobic exercise that they enjoy and participate regularly.

In conclusion, if you prefer a form of exercise other than running, that is perfectly acceptable. However, if you want to run do not be fooled by the opinion that it leads to arthritis and be wary of any advice that comes from a person sporting a "healthy" Molson's Tumor!

Larry Smith, D.C., B.P.E.

Contact the office:
Dr. Larry Smith D.C., B.P.E.
    P.O. Box 307
    255 Island Highway
    Parksville, British Columbia
    Canada V9P 2G5

Phone: (250) 248-6333
Fax: (250) 248-6390

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