Osteoarthritis and Sports Injuries

What Is Arthritis?

The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that protects the bones around the joints begins to wear away. This protective cartilage functions as a cushion to protect the joint. When it breaks down, bone begins to rub against bone, leading to damage to the joint itself. Osteoarthritis can affect the whole joint, causing structural changes to articular cartilage, subchondral bone, the ligaments, capsule, synovial membrane, and peri-articular muscles.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, and it is where the synovial membrane that protects and lubricates the joint becomes inflamed, causing pain, swelling and often visible deformation.


This debilitating condition is very common and affects millions of people worldwide. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that can severely impact physical activity and can be related to sports injuries.  

The most common joints in the body affected by osteoarthritis include the knees, the hips, and the small joints of the hands, with typical symptoms including swelling, stiffness, and a restricted range of movement. When the knees are affected, it can be particularly debilitating.

osteoarthritis - sports -injury


Sports Injuries and Osteoarthritis

However, the big question is does sport play a role? It seems it can do, although there are other factors involved such as genetics, gender, age, weight/obesity, occupation, and previous injury as previously discussed.

Do Sports Cause Arthritis?

There are a number of studies that suggest that there is indeed a link between osteoarthritis and sports. A study by the university of Edinburgh found that, “competing at elite level in sport is linked with an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis and joint pain in later life.” This particular study was focused on athletes that had competed at Olympian level.

Other research demonstrated that there is a high association between football players and osteoarthritis. A study conducted by the university of Nottingham found that, “footballers are 2-3 times more likely to get knee osteoarthritis when compared with age-matched men in the general population”.

Some types of sports put a lot of strain on the joints of the body due to high impact and repetitive motion, and this can lead to a strain and damage over time, something that may be worsened by poor posture and general habits.

Treatment and Management Of Osteoarthritis

There is currently no cure for this long-term condition, although effective management can help to reduce the symptoms.


Being active can help those with osteoarthritis to remain independent and mobile. A well-trained physiotherapist can devise a structured exercise plan that will help to improve joint movement and strengthen the surrounding muscles to provide additional support to the joint itself. Any unhelpful habits or poor posture can be identified and corrected during the treatment program. Manual therapy techniques may also be used, where the physiotherapist uses their hands to mobilise, stretch and massage the body tissues in order to help keep the joints supple and flexible.

Pain Relief Medication

Over the counter medication such as ibuprofen and paracetamol can be used to provide effective pain relief. In more severe cases, stronger prescription pain relief medication may be prescribed by a GP or other health practitioner.

Cortisone Injections

Particularly swollen and painful joints are sometimes treated with an intra-articular injection of corticosteroid, to help reduce inflammation and to relieve painful symptoms.

Practising Sports

Those with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis should be able to participate in some sports, however, high impact sports that involve the affected joint, should be avoided as this can exacerbate symptoms. Maintaining a consistent warm up and stretch routine will help to keep the joints loose and supple, minimising the risk of injury when practising sports.

Our Services

Our specialist physiotherapist clinic treats a wide range of disorders and conditions including osteoarthritis. We offer a detailed assessment for all new patients to evaluate the condition of the affected joint (s) and from there we will devise a tailored treatment plan which will typically involve specific exercises, strength work, stretches and hands on manipulation. We also offer shockwave therapy if appropriate.

About the Author