Any Runner Can Get Osteoarthritis–Here’s How To Avoid It

It’s called post-traumatic osteoarthritis and, based on a recent study by orthopedists and rehabilitation specialists at the University of Iowa, it affects roughly 27 million Americans. If your first thought after sustaining an injury is How fast can I get back to running?, you may want to ask some different questions about rehabilitation and recovery.

Joint Injury

The study focuses on joint injuries–as in, injuries to the all-important ankles or knees. Most runners are tempted to take the shortest route of rehabilitation possible so we can get back to our favorite pastime quickly, but research shows this is unwise. Adequate recovery (read: plenty of time off) coupled with strengthening the supporting muscles around the injured joint are critical to not only reducing your risk of re-injury but of developing osteoarthritis in the future.

Arthritis Is Ageless

If you think this article is only for the “master” athlete crowd, think again. As explained in a recent article about the study published by The New York Times, “When an adolescent or young adult sustains a knee injury, for example, X-ray evidence of arthritis is often apparent within a decade.”

Osteoarthritis–What Is It?

According to a paper published in the Journal of Athletic Training, osteoarthritis (a degenerative joint disease) is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. that’s related to mobility. Due to the continuous rise in this country’s obesity rates, its aging population and the rise of joint-related injuries in Americans, the existence of osteoarthritis symptoms in patients is expected to double by 2020.

4 Ways Runners Can Prevent Osteoarthritis

Not all running-related joint injuries can be prevented. However, keeping the following guidelines in mind can certainly help:

  1. Strength trainSeriously, how many times do we have to say it? Proper strength training corrects muscle imbalances and stabilizes the muscles surrounding the joints, which allows for greater stability and mobility. Focus on the joint’s supporting muscles, like the hamstrings, quads and hip muscles.
  2. Slow and steadyDon’t hurry back to running. Seek the help of a experienced physical therapist and your doctor and follow their advice, taking as much time as your body needs to heal and rehabilitate the injury properly.
  3. Pain is badDo not (we repeat: DO NOT) run through pain, or you may make a bad situation worse. When it comes to joint pain, there is no such thing as “good” pain or “I can run through it” pain. Just stop and follow the rule that follows.
  4. Keep moving–Just because you can’t run doesn’t mean you can’t bike or swim or (gasp!) walk. Try moving in a different way that doesn’t put pressure on the injured joint and that also helps keep your mood lifted and your blood flowing. Who knows? You may end up in a triathlon, stronger than ever.

Related:

How To Run With Arthritis

Why Do So Many Runners Have Knee Pain?

3 Exercises To Strengthen Muscles Around Your Knee