Sports and osteoarthritis – injuries and joint pain

Last modified: December 12, 2019

Our bodies are put under different types of strain on a daily basis. We can put up with most of them, but sometimes we suffer damage. Many sports require the participants to run or jump. This puts considerable and powerful pressure on the knee and hip joints, as well as others. If this strain is frequent, it may later lead to osteoarthritis in the knee or hip. This is a common issue in people who play sports at an elite level, but people outside this group can also be affected.

Common injuries among elite athletes

The most common injuries for athletes are knee and ankle damage. These are usually muscle strains or temporary overloading of the joints. All conditions that affect the joints can cause pain, stiffness and swelling, which may make simple movements such as squatting down or kneeling more difficult for the person affected. Most people with these conditions heal relatively quickly, but osteoarthritis is the exception. If you have osteoarthritis, you should start specific osteoarthritis training to reduce the symptoms. In the meantime, you can use various forms of support to stabilize and relieve the load on the joint.

Osteoarthritis of the knee, runner’s knee and jumper’s knee

If you have what is known as runner’s knee, it is common to feel a severe pain on the outside of the knee – so severe that it may be impossible to continue with your sport. The worst pain usually disappears when you stand up or rest for a while. The positive thing is that runner’s knee is usually a benign overloading of a muscle, and rehabilitation training in the form of physiotherapy is usually enough to heal the injury.

Jumper’s knee is a different type of knee injury. The most common symptom is a severe pain and stiffness directly over the patellar tendon, especially during training. Jumper’s knee can cause problems with your balance, kneeling or squatting down or going up steps.  The pain usually appears when you bend your knee. You may also feel weakness in your leg to a greater or lesser extent. Swelling and tenderness in the lower part of the knee is not unusual either. Jumper’s knee is also an overload injury, and it can usually be cured by physiotherapy.

Unlike runner’s knee and jumper’s knee, the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee often appear gradually. People often notice that their knee starts hurting when it is under strain. It might also be hard to get moving again after sitting down for a while. Unfortunately, osteoarthritis does not heal itself, it is a chronic disease. However, it is also possible to treat this condition with rehabilitation training.

Osteoarthritis of the knee after previous injury – post-traumatic osteoarthritis

When the joint disease occurs as a result of a previous injury, it is known as post-traumatic osteoarthritis. This can develop as the result of a tackle or a fall, which are not uncommon in sport.

A study carried out by Harald Roos, an orthopedic surgeon with a great deal of experience in sports injuries, showed that approximately one third of the women who participated in the study suffered from osteoarthritis after a knee injury in connection with participating in sport, what is known as post-traumatic osteoarthritis. Roos showed, in particular, that young girls who play football or handball are at risk, and that an injury in the knee joint in combination with damage to the meniscus can lead to osteoarthritis of the knee. However, it can take up to 10-15 years before the disease is detected.

Although young girls are particularly at risk, the risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee or hip after sports injuries is also high for boys and men. However, the study showed that the risk for women of having injuries in the front cruciate ligament is 6-8 times higher, and this can lead to osteoarthritis of the knee. The sports with the highest risk are usually those which involve twisting or turning, such as football and handball.

Read more about osteoarthritis in the AC joint.