Running and Osteoarthritis + 8 Tips To Help You Run Comfortably

You don’t need to have full mobility to experience the health benefits of exercise. If injury, disability, illness, or weight problems have limited your mobility, there are still plenty of ways you can use exercise to boost your mood, ease depression, relieve stress and anxiety, enhance your self-esteem, and improve your whole outlook on life.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that energize your mood, relieve stress, boost your self-esteem, and trigger an overall sense of well-being. If you’re a regular exerciser currently sidelined with an injury, you’ve probably noticed how inactivity has caused your mood and energy levels to sink.

This is understandable: exercise has such a powerful effect on mood that it can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. However, an injury doesn’t mean your mental and emotional health is doomed to decline. While some injuries respond best to total rest, most simply require you to reevaluate your exercise routine with help from your doctor or physical therapist.

If you have a disability, severe weight problem, chronic breathing condition, diabetes, arthritis, or other ongoing illness, you may think that your health problems make it impossible for you to exercise effectively, if at all. Or perhaps you’ve become frail with age and are worried about falling or injuring yourself if you try to exercise.

The truth is, regardless of your age, current physical condition, and whether you’ve exercised in the past or not, there are plenty of ways to overcome your mobility issues and reap the physical, mental, and emotional rewards of exercise.

What types of exercise are possible with limited mobility?

It’s important to remember that any type of exercise will offer health benefits. Mobility issues inevitably make some types of exercise easier than others, but no matter your physical situation, you should aim to incorporate three different types of exercise into your routines:

Cardiovascular Exercises

This raises your heart rate and increases your endurance. These can include walking, running, cycling, dancing, tennis, swimming, water aerobics, or “aqua jogging”. Many people with mobility issues find exercising in water especially beneficial as it supports the body and reduces the risk of muscle or joint discomfort. Even if you’re confined to a chair or wheelchair, it’s still possible to perform cardiovascular exercise.

Strength Training Exercises

Involves using weights or other resistance to build muscle and bone mass, improve balance, and prevent falls. If you have limited mobility in your legs, your focus will be on upper-body strength training. Similarly, if you have a shoulder injury, for example, your focus will be more on strength training your legs and core.

Flexibility Exercises

Helps enhance your range of motion, prevent injury, and reduce pain and stiffness. These may include stretching exercises and yoga. Even if you have limited mobility in your legs, for example, you may still benefit from stretches and flexibility exercises to prevent or delay further muscle atrophy.

Setting yourself up for exercise success

To exercise successfully with limited mobility, illness, or weight problems, start by getting medical clearance. Talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or another healthcare provider about activities suitable for your medical condition or mobility issue.

Starting an Exercise Routine

Start slow and gradually increase your activity level. Begin by doing something that you take pleasure in, progress according to your own speed, and make sure your ambitions are achievable. Achieving even the most minor fitness objectives will give you an increased sense of self-esteem and help you stay inspired.

Make exercise part of your daily life. Set up a routine to work out at the same time each day, and incorporate different activities so that you don’t become uninterested.

Stick with it. It takes around four weeks for something to become ingrained as a habit. Create a written list of the reasons why you work out and what your goals are, and place it somewhere where it can be easily seen. This will help to keep you focused and motivated.

Concentrate on achievable objectives like lifting your spirits and taking off the tension, instead of goals like shedding pounds, which can be more time-consuming to reach. If you take pleasure in what you’re doing, it will be easier to remain driven, so find ways to make working out enjoyable. You can try putting on some tunes or streaming a program while exercising or try exercising with your buddies.

Expect ups and downs. Do not feel disheartened if you take a break for a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Begin anew, gradually increasing your speed until you’re back up to your usual pace.

Staying safe when exercising

If while you are exercising you experience any kind of physical distress such as pain, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain, an irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, or cold, sweaty hands, you should cease the activity. Hearing what your body is telling you is the best way to prevent injury. If you have aching after doing exercise for 15 minutes, you should try to reduce your training to either 5 or 10 minutes and then exercise in more frequent sessions.

Avoid activity involving an injured body part. If you have an injury in your upper body, try to do exercises focusing on your lower body while it is healing, and vice versa. When you are ready to begin exercising following an injury, take it easy by using lower weights and not pushing yourself too hard with resistance.

Warm up, stretch, and cool down. Begin your physical activity session with a few minutes of lower-intensity exercises, like walking, moving your arms around, and rotating your shoulders. After that, engage in some gentle stretching (it is not recommended to stretch to your maximum range when your muscles are chilly).

Once you are done with your workout, whether it be cardiovascular, strength-building, or stretching, spend a few additional minutes getting back to a relaxed state by doing some lighter movements and deeper stretching.

Drink plenty of water. Your body performs best when it’s properly hydrated. Choose garments that are suitable for the situation and that will not limit your mobility, like well-fitted shoes and comfortable garments.

Getting more out of your workouts

Add a mindfulness element. Whether you are working out in a chair or taking a stroll outside, you will be able to see greater results if you focus on what your body is telling you instead of disconnecting from reality.

By concentrating on the sensations that you feel during your physical activity—like the beat of your respiration, your feet hitting the ground, or the tightening of your muscles when lifting weights—not only will you better your physical health in a shorter time, but you can also receive improved benefits to your emotion and overall wellness.

Can You Run With Osteoarthritis?

It is often thought that being diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee, hip, or other joints in the lower body would mean that running would no longer be possible. Usually, however, it is still possible to keep running while having this condition.

Running with osteoarthritis can be uncomfortable, though it’s not necessarily impossible, depending on the severity of the degeneration of your joints, the number of joints involved, and your overall health, body weight, pain tolerance, and your biomechanics.

For example, a runner with a high BMI with severe end-stage osteoarthritis in both knees may not be able to continue running without getting a knee replacement due to the severity of pain and crepitus in both knees.

Runners who are overweight or have a high BMI may have additional difficulty when running with osteoarthritis because even more force is put on the joints.

On the other hand, a runner may be able to go running with spinal osteoarthritis with just a few modifications to their training if their condition is mild to moderate.

Given the wide variations in the physical location, characteristics, and severity of the condition and the characteristics of each individual runner, running with osteoarthritis may or may not be possible.

You should discuss your interest in running with your rheumatologist, general healthcare practitioner, or physical therapist to get clearance and specific guidance for your personal situation.

Does Running Cause Osteoarthritis?

It used to be a given that in any room full of people, at least a handful would adamantly assert their belief that running causes arthritis and joint damage, particularly to the knees and hips. Even medical professionals and researchers have long believed that high-volume, consistent running will cause premature joint wear and tear.

Studies have demonstrated that running does not increase the likelihood of someone having osteoarthritis in comparison to a person who does not engage in running. Further, a few studies suggest that running may even reduce someone’s chance of getting osteoarthritis.

A study that followed runners and non-runners over 18 years found that there was no discernible difference in radiographic evidence of arthritis in runners compared to non-runners.

Other research has shown that marathoners and long-distance runners may have healthier knees than sedentary age-matched peers. Studies have also found that running can improve the health of the spine.

Will Running Make Arthritis Worse?

Although you should discuss running with your doctor because your needs may differ, there’s evidence to suggest that running does not exacerbate arthritis.  

A recent study that followed runners with knee osteoarthritis over 4 years found that not only did running not worsen clinical arthritis symptoms nor radiographic evidence of arthritis on x-rays, but running also seemed to help alleviate subjective measures of knee pain. 

The Arthritis Foundation states that running can be an effective means of controlling indicators of osteoarthritis.

8 Tips For Running With Osteoarthritis 

Depending on your presentation of osteoarthritis, history as a runner, and goals, running with arthritis may or may not be limiting.

For some runners, running with arthritis might be little more than something that occasionally flares up and requires a little extra icing and a reduction of mileage, while for others, osteoarthritis can necessitate fairly significant modifications to your training.

Here are some tips for running with osteoarthritis:

#1: Run On Soft Surfaces

Going for a jog on lawns, trails, small stones, cinder, runs, sand, or even a treadmill is simpler on your joints than pounding the pavement on hard asphalt or cement.

The pressure of the ground onto your feet and legs is less when running on softer surfaces, this consequently decreases the stress on your joints. This can lessen the discomfort you experience and may even decrease your arthritis flare-ups.

#2: Shorten Your Stride

Increasing your cadence and shortening your stride reduces the impact stress on your joints, making for a more pain-free running gait.

#3: Get the Right Shoes

Speak with your doctor or physical therapist about the best type of running shoes for your feet. Generally, a running shoe with ample cushioning and support will alleviate some of the stress on your feet.

It is beneficial to change your shoes regularly so that they are always in good condition to give the bounce and shock absorption your feet require.

It is recommended that most running shoe wearers get a new pair every 300-500 miles (500-800 km), but if they suffer from osteoarthritis it is better to replace them sooner and nearer to the 300-mile point.

#4: Warm Up

It is essential to do stretching before exercising, especially if you are running while experiencing arthritis. Before jogging, do some light aerobic activities and stretching exercises that will prepare your body for the next activity.

Many runners with arthritis also find that using a heating pad to actually warm up the joint before that warm-up is also a great way to increase circulation.

#5: Pay Attention to Your Pain

It is of great significance to heed one’s physical body and observe the indications it is giving, especially for those who are running while having arthritis. There could be occasions when your body does not feel like running.

It’s also critical to be discerning about your discomfort. Many times people tend to attribute any discomfort that they may be feeling to their arthritis, especially if it is near the area where the arthritis is located.

Although runners with arthritis might be more vulnerable to certain types of injuries, their risk for running-related injuries is not any less than that of other runners, meaning that some pains or twinges may not necessarily result from arthritis.

Think of a situation where a jogger who has knee arthritis is likely to experience pain and tightness in the right knee during almost every run due to the condition. This ache could rate a three on a 1 to 10 range of intensity.

At one point, a different soreness started up along the side of the knee, and it was a relatively powerful 5 on a scale of 10. The runner should be aware that this may be a distinct problem that needs to be addressed – it could be a sign of the initial phase of IT band syndrome. This new problem would need to be addressed specifically.

#6: Watch the Weather

Although not all runners with osteoarthritis are affected by weather, many runners find that certain environmental conditions can increase swelling or exacerbate arthritic pain.

Examples include high humidity, rain, or freezing temperatures. These days, running indoors on a treadmill may be more comfortable.

#7: Ice Your Joints

After you do a run, applying ice to your arthritic joints can help reduce swelling and soreness. Unless your healthcare provider suggests something different, it is unnecessary to put ice on your body right before you go for a run, as it may lead to stiffness.

#8: Strengthen your Core

Having a strong centre of your body can assist in maintaining good posture while running, and will also permit the efficient transfer of power and motion between your torso and legs. The more accurately your body is aligned, the more the pressures on your joints will be in line with their designed physiology.


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