Osteoarthritis is a disease of the cartilage which is the smooth elastic tissue that covers and protects the ends of bones at the joints. In people with osteoarthritis, this cartilage wears away which in turn allows the bones to rub against each other resulting in damage, inflammation and pain.
Unlike muscle tissue, cartilage does not contain blood vessels which means that it grows and repairs at a much slower rate than muscle tissue. Some sports require very high levels of physical activity and in such cases, the degradation of the cartilage exceeds its regeneration abilities. Furthermore, this type of physical activity places a great deal of stress on the joints which result in microtrauma which go unnoticed and untreated. Sports such as football and hockey have a high risk of direct blunt trauma to joints which causes impact damage. Studies on American football players who suffered knee injuries found that over 80% of them had osteoarthritis 10-30 years after competing. Similar studies showed that soccer players also face the same problem. However, it is important to note that the risk of osteoarthritis depends on the frequency, duration and intensity of physical activity. Researchers found that moderate amounts of exercise do not increase the risk of osteoarthritis but participation in high impact sports, particularly over a prolonged period is likely to have an adverse effect on the development of osteoarthritis.
It is virtually impossible to prevent all injury when you’re on the field but a few precautions can help to reduce your risk of injury and prevent early-onset osteoarthritis. Sports like basketball, football and hockey involve quick direction changes and carry a significant risk of collision with other players. To reduce your risk of injury, make sure that you always warm up before your game. Studies show that warm-up stretches increase the elasticity of muscles and smooth muscular contractions which reduces the risk of injury during the game. You should also spend time practicing techniques on how to pivot as this will dramatically decrease your risk of injury which will go a long way in preventing osteoarthritis. Focus on strengthening the muscles around your joints as this will help to prevent injuries as well as recover faster if you do get injured. This is because strong muscles can help to take the pressure off your joints which will also result in less inflammation and pain.
Intense physical activity can increase the risk of osteoarthritis but low-impact exercise can help to prevent and even treat osteoarthritis. This is because low-impact physical activity promotes the healing of damaged cartilage, ligaments and tendons. Even though you play sports, you can include swimming, cycling or walking in your daily fitness regimen to help repair cartilage that is damaged during sports.
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