(Reuters Health)—Participation in some sports, including soccer, wrestling and elite-level long-distance running, may increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis, researchers say.
“While the typical athlete is not at a greater risk of knee osteoarthritis, it was interesting to see that certain athletes may be more likely to have knee osteoarthritis later in life, specifically, elite and non-elite soccer players and elite-level long-distance runners, elite-level weight lifters and elite-level wrestlers,” lead author Jeffrey B. Driban from Tufts Medical Center in Boston told Reuters Health by email.
“It was reassuring that even in these high-risk sports less than 1 in 10 former athletes had knee osteoarthritis,” he added.
More than 40 percent of people will experience osteoarthritis of the knee at some point in their lives, especially if they have a history of knee injury or are obese. Whether sports participation increases this risk remains unclear, however, the authors note in the June issue of the Journal of Athletic Training.
Driban’s team reviewed the medical literature and analyzed 17 past studies that examined links between participation in specific sports and the odds of developing osteoarthritis of the knee.
Overall, the rates of knee arthritis did not differ meaningfully between sport participants and non-participants. Among the sport participants, 7.7 percent developed knee arthritis, and among those who didn’t participate in sports, it was 7.3 percent.
But participation in certain sports was associated with a much higher risk. Elite-level long-distance running, soccer, weightlifting and wrestling were tied to knee osteoarthritis rates three to seven times higher than those of nonparticipants.
“It is important to note that most of these sports involve a high risk of injury and have lots of loading on the knee joint,” Driban said. “For example, Olympic-level marathon runners expose their joints to many more miles per week than a typical runner. Or alternatively, elite-level weight-lifters expose their joints to much greater forces during each repetition than the typical person in a weight room. These elite athletes really are unique and they may also start competitive sports at a younger age, compete for more years, put in more hours per year, be more likely to play through pain, or rush back to competition too soon.”
Still, among some non-elite athletes, there was also some added risk. For example, the risk of knee arthritis was nine times higher in those who played high school football compared with those who didn’t.
On the other hand, elite basketball, boxing, shooting and track and field did not appear to be associated with knee arthritis.