Too Much Exercise Can Cause Arthritis

Athletes seem to be getting older and older, as evidenced by the scores of middle-aged men and women who are lacing up their sneakers and hitting the running paths, tennis courts, basketball courts and other venues where they can run, jump and sweat to their heart's content.

But while their hearts may indeed benefit from all of this cardiovascular exercise, these baby boomers are putting themselves at risk of damage to another part of their bodies: their knees.

According to a study recently conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, middle-aged men and women who engaged in the highest levels of exercise incurred more damage to their knees than those who engaged in less physical activity or in lower-impact activities.

The study involved doing MRIs on the knees of 236 men and women between the ages of 45 and 55 who were enrolled in the National Institutes of Health Osteoarthritis Initiative. The participants were healthy and had no reported knee pain. The results? The most active participants sported various lesions on their knees, specifically in the cartilage, ligaments and meniscus. The more active the study participants were, the more damage was seen, and it didn't seem to matter how old the subjects were or whether they were men or women.

Doctors say that the kind of damage seen on these MRIs puts the study subjects at greater risk of developing osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis in the U.S.

But since exercise is important, don't just toss your running sneakers and plant yourself on the couch. You can still work out as long as you're mindful of your joints. The worst offenders are high-impact, weight-bearing workouts such as running and jumping. So whether you're a daily exerciser or weekend warrior, if you're concerned about your knees and your osteoarthritis risk you may want to switch up the kinds of sports you play. Instead of heading out for a long run, consider hopping on a bike and exploring your neighborhood. Or switch to fast walking, which burns major calories but is much easier on the joints than running. Swimming, too, is a terrific exercise that keeps you fit without putting any stress on the joints.


Radiological Society of North American