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Deflating a running myth
Running and arthritis do not necessarily go hand in hand


March 2015

While a recent medical article suggests running may not increase one’s chances of developing knee arthritis and may even help prevent the disease, two local physicians offer reasons to challenge and support the findings.

The 2014 American College of Rheumatology study of 2,600 people is posted on the Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare site. The study has not been formally published.

"It’s an interesting article about a study that has minimal sample size," said Dr. Eric Pifel, a Wheaton orthopedic surgeon who practices at the Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Franklin.

He says although there may be holes in the findings, the study has purpose. "I like these kind of articles because it piques interest in how we remain healthy," Pifel says.

He points out that running is good for most people as long as it is done in moderation.

"Ideally, running is best when it is combined with other activities that also are good for cardiovascular health," he says. Cross-training is ideal. "The people who only run and then take a hiatus and begin running again at the same level can face problems."

Doing only one type of exercise like running, Pifel notes, is comparable to driving the same way in a circle so that only one part of the tires wears out.

No studies show that running causes arthritis, says Dr. Anne Hoch, a specialist at the Sports Medicine Center of Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. She says weight, joint injury and age play bigger roles.

"There are a lot of people who say you shouldn’t run, that it will give you arthritis in your knees," Hoch says. "How many times have you heard that?"

She sees far more younger, overweight people with arthritis than, say, 60-year-old runners with the same problem.

For runners and others, therapy options are available. Steroid shots are one approach, though Hoch says the anti-inflammatory also can cause damage to cartilage cells. Hyaluronic acid injections — what Hoch calls gel shots — provide cushion.

"Arthritis can advance to where you get fluid that causes your quadriceps muscle to shut down," she says. "We can drain that fluid and get you into physical therapy."

Pifel says runners by nature may not want activity or therapy options.

"It’s hard for some to give it up," he says. "Runners are hooked on running. There’s a euphoria and it’s about ego."


This story ran in the March 2015 issue of: