MRI Shows Joints Recover Even Under Extreme Duress
Written by Editor   
Monday, December 21, 2015 08:54 AM

Ultra marathon runners joints demonstrated significant degradation, but the deficits resolved as the ultra marathon continued, and while there was an over 6% loss of grey matter in the brain, brain volume had returned to normal at 8 months post run.

A study of ultramarathoners who ran the whole of Europe demonstrated that with the exception of the patellar joint, nearly all cartilage segments of knee, ankle, and hindfoot joints showed a significant degradation within the first 1,500 to 2,500 km. But with continued running, the deficits resolved. “Further testing indicated that ankle and foot cartilage have the ability to regenerate under ongoing endurance running,"

"The ability of cartilage to recover in the presence of loading impact has not been previously shown in humans. In general, we found no distance limit in running for the human joint cartilage in the lower extremities."

Using a mobile truck with an 1.5-Tesla MRI scanner researchers followed 66 runners participating in the Trans Europe Foot Race, which goes for for 4,500 km from the tip of the toe of Italy, through Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and finally reaching Nordkapp (North Cape) in the Norwegian Arctic. The race took place over over 64 days from April to June 2009.

They ran tests in 44 of the runners who agreed to undergo the observations and testing.  Each participant was scanned every 3 to 4 days, resulting in 15 to 17 MRI exams over the course of the race. More than 1,500 MRI scans were completed during the month-long study. 

The researchers also looked at how ultramarathon running affects brain volume. Baseline comparison of race participants and controls revealed no significant differences in gray matter volume. At the end of the race, MRI of the brain revealed about a 6.1% loss of gray matter volume in the runners. But 8 months post-race, gray matter volume had returned to normal levels.

“Despite substantial changes to brain composition during the catabolic stress of an ultramarathon, we found the differences to be reversible and adaptive."