UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


Long-distance running can improve parts of runners’ knees

12 December 2019

A new study led by Prof Alister Hart (Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital) has found that marathon running could improve knee damage in middle-aged adults new to running.

Marathon runners

Alister and his team used high-resolution MRI to evaluate the short-term impact that long-distance running has on knee joints. They scanned 82 healthy participants’ knees six months before and two weeks after their first marathon. The new runners also completed questionnaires about how their knees felt. 

Most of the participants already had some knee damage before they started training although they didn’t report any pain. For many people, the post-marathon scans revealed that running had done no further harm, and in fact, some main weight-bearing areas of the knee were improved. Some of the new runners experienced worsening of the knee joint, but this didn’t affect their performance.

This research improves our understanding of how high-intensity exercise affects the knee and could persuade more non-runners to take up the sport. It also highlights areas of the knee that are more prone to injury – like the knee joint – so new and experienced runners can take this into consideration during their training.

The researchers are now looking into the effects of running on marathon participants’ hips. Their Running for Science research group is a collaboration between UCL, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, St. George’s University Hospitals and Barts Health NHS and Virgin London Marathon.

This research study was funded by Professor Hart’s patients, The Maurice Hatter Foundation, the RNOH Charity, the Rosetrees Trust and the Stoneygate Trust and supported by researchers at the National Institute for Health Research University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre.

The authors of the study were:

Laura Maria Horga, Johann Henckel, Anastasia Fotiadou, Anna Hirschmann, Camilla Torlasco, Anna Di Laura, Andrew D'Silva, Sanjay Sharma, James Moon, Alister Hart


More information:

Read the full paper in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.

Exercise for Science website (formerly know as Running for Science).

New York Times article: Marathon running may be good for your knees

LinkedIn post by Alister Hart