How does running affect your cartilage?

Tri coach Scott Findlay explains how running affects your cartilage and shares 4 tips for protecting it against injury

Credit: James Mitchell

As we age, our body naturally goes through a state of decline, but we can both accelerate or decelerate the process through the choices we make. 


Compounds called proteoglycans are found in the cartilage and are associated with cartilage health; they’re essential for resisting load and not becoming compressed or breaking down.

It’s been suggested that walking/running will increase the stiffness and proteoglycan synthesis whereas continuous standing compresses the cartilage. It’s this cyclical nature of running or walking that may beneficially affect cartilage health.

However, mechanical overloading can lead to a reduction in these proteoglycans. Considerations such as the terrain and the session intensity can also have a detrimental effect.

Another recent study, however, suggests that running doesn’t often cause osteoarthritis and may actually have a protective effect. So while too much running may cause a breakdown of cartilage, some running may actually
be good for it!

Cartilage injuries: how to treat and prevent them

But here are four tips to reduce the chances of cartilage breakdown:

1. Try not to over-stride, but to land with your foot underneath your body.

2. Don’t ramp up your run volume too soon, give your body time to adapt to the extra load.

3. Recent research suggests a diet full of high-antioxidant fruit and veg can help protect your cartilage.

4. Muscles absorb the majority of the load that goes through your legs, so make sure your legs are strong to protect
your cartilage.