Ask The ST Run Expert

Knee-joint pain and osteoarthritis

As arthritis often waxes and wanes, many runners back off when the pain is bad and resume running when they get better.
As arthritis often waxes and wanes, many runners back off when the pain is bad and resume running when they get better. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Q I am in my 50s and a keen runner but my doctor said that I have developed osteoarthritis in the knees.

Should I continue doing regular long-distance runs? How would the condition affect my knees in the long term?

A It is possible to maintain a running regimen despite having arthritis in the knees.

Arthritis refers to inflammation in the joints. The knee is the most commonly affected joint and osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that happens most often in people aged 50 or older. It is commonly known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Therefore, people may mistakenly believe that it arises from running.

But there is no evidence that a moderate amount of running contributes to the development of arthritis in the knees.

Rather, the more common causes of arthritis in the knees are genetic predisposition, previous injuries to the knees and being overweight.

If your close family members, such as your parents or siblings, have arthritis, there is a good chance that you will have it too.

Also, if you have had an injury to your knee, such as an anterior cruciate ligament tear or a tear of the meniscus, the risk of developing arthritis in the knee can be as high as 50 per cent.

Being overweight can increase by threefold your risk of developing knee osteoarthritis.


A person who has arthritis in the knees can suffer from pain due to inflammation, stiffness and a sensation of weakness or instability.

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage in the knee joint breaks down, causing the symptoms of pain and swelling, stiffness, deformity and reduction in function.

It is generally accepted that low-impact activities, such as swimming or walking, are more suitable forms of exercise. Running is considered a high-impact activity and is usually discouraged.

Should you suffer from milder forms of arthritis, it can be fair to “listen” to your knee and let the pain determine how much and how far you can run.

Running at a pace and distance that is comfortable for your knees is important. As arthritis often waxes and wanes, many runners back off when the pain in the knee is bad and resume running when the pain improves.

It is important to put on a good pair of running shoes and run on a treadmill instead of hard concrete. The treadmill is designed to absorb impact and is more forgiving to the knees.

For regular runners, a rule of thumb is to change your running shoes after 500km or six months of use.

Studies have indicated that a rehabilitative programme which combines stretching and strengthening exercises for the legs and core muscles can enable someone with mild knee osteoarthritis to continue doing sports without significant harm.

Cross-training in between runs, such as cycling and swimming, can also be helpful.

Heavy-load, high-impact activities are a no-no, so marathon running is out.

That said, every person’s situation is different. If you have concerns about arthritis or joint health, see a health professional for advice and treatment.

Dr Lee Eu Jin
Orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline 'Knee-joint pain and osteoarthritis'. Print Edition | Subscribe