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Is running good or bad for your joints?

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It’s already well known that exercise can help to reduce the pain and stiffness caused by arthritis. But can certain types of exercise — such as running — actually damage our joints?

Over the next 15 years, researchers at the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis at the University of Nottingham hope to find a definitive answer to this question.

The health of adults’ longitudinal observational (HALO) study will investigate the effects of recreational running on knee function and the development of joint pain and osteoarthritis over time.

Before launching the study, the research team conducted a systematic review of all published research exploring if there was any evidence of an association between running and knee osteoarthritis.

Study leader Dr Kim Edwards, Associate Professor in Academic Orthopaedics, Trauma and Sports Medicine at the University of Nottingham, said: “Following our review, we concluded there’s no clear evidence available anywhere in the world to either support or contradict the theory that running causes knee osteoarthritis. To be able to prove definitively that running isn’t a risk factor for arthritis we therefore needed to conduct a long-term study like HALO.”

The researchers have signed up 3,600 people from all over the UK, with a wide range of ages and activity levels.

“Collecting detailed information from a large group of people and then being able to watch what changes and develops over 15 years will give us the accurate picture we need to show how levels of physical activity affect our joints and our health,” Dr Edwards said.

“We already know exercise relieves pain and reduces symptoms in most people with osteoarthritis. At the end of this study we want to be able to say definitively whether or not running causes osteoarthritis. We hope that providing robust evidence in this area will stop the mixed messages about exercise that are still out there and encourage more people to keep active and experience the wider health benefits that moving more brings.”