Can Exercising Wear Out My Joints?

Graphic of women stretching with toddlers
Posted March 8, 2023
Caitlin Williams
BKin(Hon), MSc(PT), MScCl(Manip Ther), DPT, FCAMPT

Have you ever been told or overheard someone saying to stop exercising because it will cause wear and tear on your joints?  Or that too much running will cause knee arthritis and you will need a knee replacement by the time you are 50!

Well that may have been the school of thought at one point but thankfully new research continues to debunk those thoughts and we now know that continuing to exercise, even running, is great for your joints.  Motion is lotion, so keep moving! 

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease which affects the joints in our body by structurally breaking down the joint surfaces (1).  It is the third fastest growing disease in the world and is a leading cause of disability (1, 2).  As physiotherapists, it is important for us to recognize and appropriately treat OA.  

One such treatment that physiotherapists prescribe is physical activity (PA).  The definition of physical activity is ‘any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscle that results in energy expenditure’ (3).  This may include going for a run, playing a game of tag football, gardening or enjoying time in your kitchen cooking a great meal.  While we know that physical activity can have an array of health benefits it has also been associated with ‘wear and tear’.  Thankfully our knowledge around OA is progressing and we now know that PA may not be harmful to our joints! Actually, PA is now the recommended non-pharmacological first-line intervention to improve pain and function for managing OA, specifically knee OA (3).

So how much physical activity do we need?

The World Health Organization recommends that all adults engage in at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity PA (4).  For example, going for a brisk walk with your friends.  What is even more interesting is that a brisk walk is not only shown to limit the progression of OA but there is some evidence that it may actually be beneficial for the knee joint! (4).  Several studies have shown that adults who regularly engage in moderate intensity PA had greater cartilage volume, fewer cartilage defects and fewer bone marrow lesions (5, 6).  

But what about running… 

For individuals who are already runners… keep going!  Just take the appropriate measures to prevent injury, such as stretching, proper nutrition and footwear. 

And if you don’t like walking or running, great news, recreational sport participation has not been related to the progression of radiographic or symptomatic OA.  But just as with running, injury prevention is key to continue enjoying those ultimate frisbee games! 

With the days getting longer and spring being just around the corner (or so we hope!), now is a great time to increase your physical activity level and do your joints some good!  

If you have any questions about starting a physical activity program, please don’t hesitate to reach out and speak with one of our physiotherapists. Let’s get moving! 



  1. Osteoarthritis: A serious disease [White Paper]. December 1, 2016. 
  2. Cross M, Smith E, Hoy D, et al. The global burden of hip and knee osteoarthritis: Estimates from the global burden disease 2010 study.  Ann Rheum Dis. 2014; 73(7): 1323-130.
  3. Caspersen CJ, Powell KE, Christenson GM. Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: Definitions and distinctions for health-related research. Public Health Rep. 1985;100(2): 126-113.
  4. Bull FC, Al-Ansari SS, Biddle S, et al. World health organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavious. Br J Sports Med. 2020;54(24):1451-1462. 
  5. Racunica TL, Teichtahl AJ, Wang Y, et al. Effect of physical activity on articular knee joint structures in community based-adults. Arthritis Rheum. 2007;57(7): 1261-1268.
  6. Urquhard DM, Tobing JF, Hanna FS, et al. What is the effect of physical activity on the knee joint? A systematic review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(3): 431-442.