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When, as a runner, you discover that arthritis has compromised your joint wellness, your heart can sink. Many people naturally assume that, in order to guard your wellbeing against further joint damage, you’ll have to give up the activity you love. However, not only is there growing evidence to suggest that running does not worsen your arthritis symptoms, but research indicates that going for a run regularly can actually help you to delay the onset of the condition, and even improve its symptoms.
There are many different kinds of arthritis, but, as a runner, the form that you need to concern yourself with is osteoarthritis. This occurs when twisting or tearing injuries cause your cartilage to degenerate, and, in turn, leads to bone-on-bone contact and joint inflammation. In severe cases of arthritis, you can require some serious medication or even surgery to replace the affected joint. Yet, the Arthritis Society’s Karen Gordon, a registered physiotherapist and avid runner, explains, ‘The motion of running does not lead to arthritis. In fact, studies suggest lower incidence of degenerative arthritis among runners than among swimmers – even though swimming is often cited as a lower-impact alternative to running.’
She continues, ‘Exercise is an important part of both prevention and management of arthritis. Physical activity increases blood flow to the joints, which promotes healing. A properly designed exercise programme may not only decrease your pain, but may also increase your flexibility and overall fitness – and it can do wonders for your state of mind, an important factor for someone living with the pain of arthritis.’ She adds, ‘Listen to your body – if you can run pain-free, then you’re good to go.’
So if you’re considering taking up running, or even if you’ve been doing it for years, it helps to be cautious. Start by visiting your local running clinic for some tips on footwear and technique, as this can go a long way to preventing injuries. If you begin running after a long period of inactivity, it’s common to experience a little stiffness and soreness, but this should go away as you gradually become more active. You might want to start by walking, and work your way up gradually as your condition allows. However, if you notice persistent or intense pain, heat or swelling in your joints, talk with your healthcare provider as you may need to scale back your programme.