Updated 23 January 2017

Elite athletes at risk of arthritis

Elite male athletes in high-contact sports have a higher risk of knee and hip arthritis later in life than men who exercise little or not at all.


About 30% of athletes had hip or knee arthritis, compared to 19% who weren't athletes.

The study, published December 8 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, included more than 700 retired Swedish athletes aged 50 to 93 who had played professional and Olympic level sports and nearly 1,400 men of the same age who exercised a little or not at all.

The retired athletes included men who played high-contact sports such as soccer and hockey, and others from non-contact sports like running, swimming and cycling.

Young athletes need not worry

The researchers found the risk of hip or knee arthritis was 85% higher in elite athletes. And in athletes who had joint surgery, the risk more than doubled.

Greater risk was seen in high contact sports, with a doubled risk in soccer and handball (also known as team handball) players and a tripled risk in ice hockey players.

If you're a weekend warrior or a young athlete, you may not have to worry about the results from the study, noted co-author Dr Magnus Tveit at Lund University in Sweden.

"But if you're an overweight, middle-aged runner who wants to run at an intense level, there are better ways of staying in shape without risking a knee injury," he wrote in an email to Reuters Health.

(Reuters Health, December 2011) 

Read more:

Young athletes

Causes of knee pain


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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