Does marathon training damage your joints?

I am now training for my 5th marathon in 5 years and I hope to average over 50 miles per week for about 18 weeks. Whilst I enjoy training for marathons I am slightly concerned that I will regret doing so in 20 years time due to worn out knees and hips.

Does anyone know of any scientific studies which assess the long term effects of running on joint health in old age? The general "old wives tale" is that running long distances damages joints. However there are many ex-elite athletes now in their 60's and 70's who don't appear to have suffered any adverse affects.

Does anyone know anyone whose joints have been damaged by running? Are there any othopeadic surgeons out there who have noticed an increase in the number of worn out joints as a result of excessive running.


  • jmc, I'm not sure on the running damage specifically, but I have an anecdote for you.

    My dad has always been very sporty (played football as a kid, volleyball at national level from late teens to late thirties and recreationally into his fifties, plays badminton, mountainbikes, skis) and has had a hip resurfaced 4 years ago and a knee operation around that time too (year before or after).

    Ok, he might have been a bit young for hip resurfacing (just under 60), but the orthopeadic surgeon told him that he was in excellent shape and that he should continue doing as much sports as he wanted.
    The mechanical wear and tear, we can fix that, he said, but your body is strong and healthy and you recover from an op easily and because you're used to being very active and pushing yourself you actually revalidate properly and get the full benefit of the op afterwards.

    Now, elite sports is a slightly different matter as in my opinion at the very top athletes just accept that they're sacrificing long term health for (relatively) short term excellence. As a hobby sportsman you probably don't have the medical backup to allow you to inflict that sort of damage anyway (ie no constant physio attention to keep you going).

    My dad is going skiing in 2 weeks time and over christmas he was agreeing dates for a week cycling holiday with friends this summer. He doesn't seem to regret training hard and staying in shape into his retirement...

  • Mu uncle ran every day religiously for years and years, did around 16 marathons as well and he now suffers with really bad arthritis in his ankles.

    However, it doesn't concern me too much, shoe technology is worlds apart from what it was 20 years ago and will only get better, there's more protection and comfort now than ever. 

  • There will be people who've run all their lives who have no damage, and those who have done little exercise and have bad problems - a lot of it will come down to your genetics, and your diet.

    I don't doubt that excessive running will put greater stresses on your joints, but I don't think 50 mile weeks for 18 weeks a year would count as excessive - lots of people do that sort of mileage (and more) all year round.

    You can help protect your joints from wear and tear by eating things like oily fish (or taking supplements), and making sure you eat well.

  • Its an impossible question really. Everyone knows an eighty year old smoker too - but its not a good idea to take it up.

    You have to weigh it all up - benefits of exercise vs inactivity. And 50 miles a week may not be that much by comparison - if you did it from a low level - then it wouldnt be the best idea. Ramp up the miles slowly.
  • JMC - there is an article with some scientific evidence here:,7120,s6-241-285--12232-0,00.html 

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