Higher levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity improve all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events. However, the effect of running, a moderate to vigorous activity, in those with knee osteoarthritis (OA), a common arthritis that occurs with aging, a high-risk group for mortality and cardiovascular events, is unclear. Therefore, we aimed to evaluate the association of self-selected running on OA symptom and structure progression in people with knee OA. This nested cohort study within the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) (2004–2014) included those at least 50 years old with OA in at least one knee. Runners were defined using a self-administered questionnaire at the 96-month visit. At baseline and 48-months, symptoms were assessed and radiographs were scored for Kellgren-Lawrence (KL) grade (2–4) and medial Joint Space Narrowing (JSN) score (0–3). We evaluated the association of self-selected running with outcomes: KL worsening, medial JSN worsening, new knee pain, and improved knee pain over 48 months, adjusting for baseline age, sex, body mass index (BMI), KL score, contralateral KL score, contralateral knee pain, and injury. If data were not available at the 48-month visit, then they were imputed from the 36-month visit. One thousand two hundred three participants had a mean age of 63.2 (7.9) years, BMI of 29.5 (4.6) kg/m2, 45.3% male, and 11.5% runners. Data from 8% of participants required imputation. Adjusted odds ratios for KL grade worsening and new frequent knee pain were 0.9 (0.6–1.3) and 0.9 (0.6–1.6) respectively. Adjusted odds ratio for frequent knee pain resolution was 1.7 (1.0–2.8). Among individuals 50 years old and older with knee OA, self-selected running is associated with improved knee pain and not with worsening knee pain or radiographically defined structural progression. Therefore, self-selected running, which is likely influenced by knee symptoms and may result in lower intensity and shorter duration sessions of exercise, need not be discouraged in people with knee OA.
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