Taking up exercise

Does exercise cause wear and tear in knee cartilage?

It almost seems intuitive that exercise would cause joint wear. After all we are all used to mechanical devices deteriorating with use so the same would be expected of the body’s moving joints. However this may not be as simple as it appears. The body is a living structure that responds to stress. Muscle, bone, tendon, ligaments and cartilage / bone interface increase their strength in response to load provided that the load is not excessive. These are adaptive changes that occur over a long number of years rather than weeks. So a simple answer to the common question is exercise bad for the joints? is probably not. Indeed the benefits in most cases out weigh the possible negatives.

But maybe this is not so simple.

There is now as always a push to exercise more. So maybe a person in their 40s decides to take up exercise and with great enthusiasm they launch in to running. TV reality programmes have pushed this line, perhaps without proper advice and screening. This can lead to trouble. For a person who may not have taken any exercise for over 10 years a sudden increase in activity can lead to trouble. Over the years with little activity the cartilage and cartilage / bone interface have become soft. There may even be some of the articular cartilage coming loose and is ready to break off. Now you start running 5k and that is what will happen. It is not the running as such that caused the problem but the inactivity for a long number of years that has weakened your cartilage and now it is not able to take the stress of running.

So the message is to listen to your joints. If there is pain and swelling you may be overdoing it for your particular body structure. Think about non joint stressing exercise first like swimming and cycling and if you can don’t let this happen at all by taking regular exercise all your life from a young age.

The clear message for young people is don’t think that you can take up exercise in later life and redress the damage that has been caused by a prolonged period of inactivity.