Athletics and osteoarthritis

Joseph A. Buckwalter, Nancy E Lane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

294 Scopus citations


Athletes, and an increasing number of middle aged and older people who want to participate in athletics, may question whether regular vigorous physical activity increases their risk of developing osteoarthritis. To answer this, the clinical syndrome of osteoarthritis must be distinguished from periarticular soft tissue pain associated with activity and from the development of osteophytes. Sports that subject joints to repetitive high levels of impact and torsional loading increase the risk of articular cartilage degeneration and the resulting clinical syndrome of osteoarthritis. However, moderate habitual exercise does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis; selected sports improve strength and mobility in older people and people with mild and moderate osteoarthritis. People with abnormal joint anatomy or alignment, previous significant joint injury or surgery, joint instability, above-average body weight, disturbances of joint or muscle innervation or inadequate muscle strength probably have increased risk of osteoarthritis. These people and those with early osteoarthritis can benefit from regular physical activity, but they should have a careful evaluation of their joint structure and function before participation. They should consider measures that decrease the intensity and frequency of impact and torsional loading of joints, including use of sports equipment that decreases joint impact loading, maintaining or improving muscle strength, tone, and general conditioning so that muscle contractions help protect joints from injury and high impact, and decreasing body weight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)873-881
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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