The effect of running activity on normal and inflamed knees was determined by light microscopic (LM) and scanning electron microscopic (SEM) observations on hamster articular cartilage. Animals were split into two groups; one housed in standard cages and one given free access to running wheels. Twenty-one days prior to analysis, half of each group was given an intra-articular injection of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to cause an inflammation, the other half were uninjected. No remarkable changes were observed by LM in either the control running or nonrunning groups. In contrast, cartilage proteoglycan depletion, and pannus and synovial hyperplasia were equally observed in both groups of LPS-injected animals. SEM observations on the patellae from control animals found them to be free from damage to the articular cartilage. The joints of both the LPS nonrunning and running animals contained synovial hypertrophy with villus projection from the synovial lining. However, only the LPS-injected running hamsters had cartilage fraying over large areas of the articular surface, as well as areas in which the villus projections had been flattened. These results demonstrated that mechanical stress applied to a proteoglycan-depleted cartilage enhances the breakdown of the collagen matrix as judged by fibrillation, and may aggravate the inflammation by crushing the swollen synovial lining where it encroaches on the joint space.