Ongoing research is uncovering the serious long-term damage that contact sports have on joints and bones. Recent studies show that contact sports can actually wear away at cartilage, causing premature arthritis and joint injuries. Even short-term injuries can have long-lasting implications to sensitive, hard-to-repair joints.
Injuries that may lead to the development of arthritis include:
- Ligament injuries, including torn ACL
- Bone fractures
- Dislocations, especially shoulder
- Cartilage injuries
Sports aren’t entirely to blame for arthritis, and there are a lot of other risk factors that contribute to joint and bone pain. But there is undeniable proof that athletes have a higher risk of joint issues in both the short-term and long-term. But we don’t expect that you’ll stop playing your favorite sport, especially if you’re a professional in your field.
So what can you do to prevent and treat joint pain caused by contact sports?
- Emphasize injury prevention.
To avoid long-term arthritis, you need to start with injury prevention. If you can keep your joints strong now, they’ll be less likely to deteriorate over time.
Remember that most serious injuries don’t happen in an instant. They’re a buildup of strain and stress from ongoing micro-injuries. For example, a football player might always tackle with his left shoulder, but he moves it slightly forward when he makes impact. This won’t show immediately because the movement is small and seemingly inconsequential. But over time, the movement forward of the shoulder while making the tackle can wear away at the cartilage in the shoulder joint.
So you want to come up with an injury prevention plan that will improve your game and your health. This can include:
- Daily exercises that align your structure
- Nutrition for bone and joint health
- Exercise rotation schedule (high-impact vs low-impact)
- Heat and icing
- Pain product application
Talk to a coach or professional trainer to come up with an injury prevention strategy.
- Start physical therapy.
Whether you’ve already had an injury or not, physical therapy can help reinforce your muscles and joints. A therapist can give you strengthening exercises and keep you on a regimen for optimal bone and joint health.
They’ll also be able to tell you where you’re weakest and how that may be impacting your overall structure. For example, if you have weak thigh muscles, you’re at a higher risk for knee osteoarthritis. So, your therapist might give you thigh strengthening exercises.
Or bad posture could weaken one of your hips, which in turn weakens one of your knees. They might give you exercises and tools to fix your posture so the rest of your structure is also aligned.
Sports physical therapists can even watch how you run and move to see where your body could be taking the greatest toll. So invite your therapist to one of your football games for a deeper evaluation of how your movement is impacting your health.
A chiropractor is another great option. They can take a look at your bone and muscular structure to see where you’re weakest. They’ll address your “kryptonite” in-office and also help create an ongoing plan to make you stronger and more durable.
- Focus on flexibility.
Flexibility actually trains your muscles and bones to naturally prevent injury. The more flexible you are, the more your body can “bend” when impact strikes.
Flexibility starts with warm-ups and cooldowns. You should be stretching both before and after you practice or play. Warm-ups help prepare your body for hard work, and cooldowns help release any tension and bring your pulse back to normal.
The first ten minutes and the last ten minutes of your workout are when most injuries occur, so be mindful here.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Weight has a direct impact on joint health. Being overweight can put extra strain on joints and bones, which can cause premature weakening. Unfortunately, a lot of contact sports actually call for a few extra pounds. Your weight class especially impacts performance in football, rugby, and wrestling.
Still, while having more weight may be useful on the field, it can have long-term impacts on health and wellness. Your body fat has a direct impact on bones, joints, muscles, cardiovascular system, and mental health.
A lot of patients find that losing weight helps alleviate some of their joint pain as well. And when you have less pain, you’re able to play better. You should talk to your coach about creating a plan to get to the right weight level for your health and performance.
- Take care of injuries.
If you’re in pain—even a minimal amount—don’t wait to get it addressed. Pain is your body’s way of signaling that’s something is wrong. It’s critical to have your pain evaluated by a professional as soon as possible.
Don’t skimp out on surgeries or exercises that could get you better. Take the healthy route—which is not necessarily the fastest route—for recovery. Remember that bone and joint health is a long-term game, so short-term fixes can cause problems later down the line.
Pain isn’t normal. Treat your pain and get fast, effective relief with PainZone.
- Switch to low-impact activities.
If you have any signs of arthritis, it’s time to slow down. Once arthritis sets in, it can be a challenge to reverse it.
Those with early arthritis symptoms—like pain, stiffness, or weakness—benefit from “gentle utilization.” This means that you don’t stop using the joint altogether, which can actually cause worsen deterioration. But you also don’t continue using it in the intense manner you have in the past.
Low-impact activities help strengthen your joints while preventing any more damage. These activities include swimming, cycling, walking, elliptical training, yoga, and rebounding. Avoid doing intense strengthening or resistance exercises, especially when in pain.
Don’t fear exercise if you’ve had an injury or are experiencing pain. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Inactivity is just as bad as overuse. So make sure you continue working your body, but do it in an effective and gentle way.
If you have not had an injury, low-impact exercises are still really important. You can strengthen your joints during the low-impact training, so they’re more prepared and durable for the high-impact movements.
Your body needs time to recover. Even top athletes know that they can’t go from the Pro Bowl to the Super Bowl in a week. Overworking your body is the most effective way to strain or sprain your joints.
You should have at least one full recovery day per week and another day for just low-impact exercises. If possible, try alternating intense and moderate/mild training sessions to avoid putting strain on your body. The best coaches know that interval training is the key to seeing success, so talk to your coach about implementing this kind of workout plan as well.
Make sure you take moments for recovery within the workout as well. Dehydration can actually make your joints brittle, so drink water to keep them lubricated. You also want to make sure you aren’t consistently wearing out the same muscles over and over again for hours, which can leave you sore, aching, and damaged the next day.
Don’t let pain take over your life—today or in the future. Contact sports players should be aware of your increased risk for osteoarthritis, especially in the knees and hips.
Don’t be scared. Be proactive. Take your pain and joint health into your own hands with preventative measures like strengthening exercises, flexibility movements, low-impact exercise, and long-term injury plans.
You can start alleviating your pain right now with PainZone!
I appreciate your efforts in writing such a detailed post. Thanks for sharing such beautiful information with us.
Many people don’t realize that the improper biomechanics starts from the hip being too tight, pulling on the tendons and muscles of the legs and causing the knees to collapse in or out improperly.
Any physiotherapist or good trainer will tell you increasing mobility of the hips and muscles attached can immediatly reduce strain on knees.
Mobility first, exercises second then everything else good will follow.