Running can still be an option for a person with osteoarthritis. With guidance from a doctor, proper running technique, and the correct footwear, it may even be beneficial.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative form of arthritis. With OA, the joints deteriorate slowly over time due to wear and tear.

OA is the most common form of arthritis. It affects over 32.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). OA can cause pain and stiffness and decrease the range of motion in the joints.

Read on for more information on OA and whether it is safe to run when living with OA.

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A 2019 study suggests that running does not necessarily worsen or increase symptoms of OA.

However, people with OA may still experience symptom flares in the knee joints due to running. OA may also affect areas of the foot and ankle. For example, OA can affect the joint in the first toe, which can cause push-off and a person’s gait to be painful.

A flare may cause the following symptoms:

  • pain or aching
  • decreased range of motion
  • swelling
  • looseness or instability

Learn more about OA.

Symptoms of OA can occur as a result of:

  • overuse due to repetitive motion of the joints
  • running on hard surfaces, which puts excess stress on the joints
  • not wearing the correct footwear
  • pounding the heel when running
  • running with incorrect form
  • running with a previous injury or history of surgery on a joint
  • progressing too quickly and not easing into a moderate running regimen

A person with OA does not have to give up running.

Running may even be beneficial for people with OA, according to the Arthritis Foundation. A regular running regimen can compress and release the cartilage in the joints. This helps the circulation of synovial fluid that nourishes the joints and can reduce inflammation and friction.

Running can also help a person strengthen muscles and build denser bones, which can help reduce pressure on the joints.

It is important for a person to strengthen and stretch their muscles to help prevent injury. This can also help strengthen the hips, which helps stabilize and absorb shock, causing less force on the knees.

Was to run safely and prevent injury include:

  • A proper warmup: Starting with a walk and stretching the quads, calves, IT bands, and hamstrings may help reduce the chance of injury and better support the joints.
  • Correct running form: Keeping the head high, gazing approximately 30–40 feet ahead, relaxing the jaw, neck, shoulders, and hands, not leaning forward from the hips or waist, and using a shorter stride can put less stress on the joints.
  • Foot strike: Landing midfoot, rather than forefoot or rearfoot, can help reduce the impact on the joints.
  • Appropriate footwear: Wearing shoes with extra support or orthotics may put less stress on the joints. Minimalist shoes or barefoot running may not be suitable for people with OA.
  • Opting for softer surfaces: Avoiding concrete and running on a treadmill, grass, or softer paths can reduce the impact on the joints.
  • Strengthening exercises: Strengthening the core and the muscles surrounding the joints can improve the alignment and stability of the joints.
  • A proper cooldown: Ending a run with a cooldown can help prevent injury that can impact the joints.

Read about 10 exercises for arthritis of the knee.

While there is no cure for OA, treatment can help reduce symptoms and make it easier to live an active lifestyle.

Prescription medications may help with pain and inflammation. These include:

Over-the-counter medications, such as Voltaren gel, may also help manage symptoms.

For severe OA, a doctor may recommend surgery, such as osteotomy or knee joint replacement.

It is important to talk with a healthcare professional to create the most effective treatment plan based on individual circumstances.

It is recommended people with OA consult a medical professional before starting a running program.

During training, a person can consult a doctor if they experience symptoms for 3 or more days in a row or several flare-ups within 1 month.

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about osteoarthritis and running.

Is running OK if you have osteoarthritis?

A person with OA can run, providing they do so safely and progress slowly.

What are the benefits of running with osteoarthritis?

A regular running regimen can help release joint cartilage, reducing friction and inflammation. Running can also strengthen the muscles around the joints.

Running can also improve overall health, cardiac function, and mood.

Can too much exercise make osteoarthritis worse?

Yes. Ramping up activity levels too quickly can make OA symptoms worse. This is partly due to the body’s need to absorb shock slowly.

People starting a new running routine should increase mileage slowly and modify activities as needed.

Running is not necessarily harmful to people with OA.

A person can run safely by using the correct form, avoiding hard surfaces, wearing proper footwear, warming up, cooling down, and gradually building intensity.

Running may even benefit a person with OA, as it can help lubricate the joints and reduce friction and inflammation.

A person should consult a doctor before starting a running routine or if they experience new or more intense OA symptoms.