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Whether or not you currently suffer from arthritis pain, one of the uncomfortable truths of aging is determining whether or not the activities we love to do are good for us in the long run. Such is the case of arthritis and sports — is there a connection between the two?

And if so, which sports should you avoid and which ones have the green light? It depends on the person, the sport, and the situation, though there are some common threads through it all. Let’s dive into the connection between sports and arthritis and figure out if your favorite activity might cause you joint pain and inflammation at some point in the future.

Point blank: do sports cause arthritis?

The short answer here is that no, participating in sports does not directly cause arthritis. It’s what happens while you participate in those sports that might be the problem. Many sports require repetitive motion that can cause strain and even injury to the joints or the cartilage that surrounds them, and this is where the risk of arthritis comes in.

In general, if you are participating in a low impact sport with a low chance of joint injury or muscle tear, you’re probably in the clear. If you’re playing hockey and running the risk of being checked into the boards, that’s an entirely different story.

It comes down to joint injuries

As we noted above, it’s what happens while you’re playing sports that can become a problem. Particularly if you get hurt in the process. While sports aren’t always direct causes of arthritis, the one common exception is when a joint injury is involved.

It comes down to your cartilage. If you’re a runner, and at some point, the constant pounding on your knees impacted the cartilage or you tore the cartilage during a bad step on uneven ground, arthritis can develop as a long-term consequences.

The same is true for other sports that are high-impact on the joints — tennis and gymnastics, for example. An injury to the joint sustained while participating in these sports can in some cases lead to arthritis. But again, the injury must be very specific.

According to Versus Arthritis, a website specializing in elbow pain and arthritis, the condition known as “tennis elbow” is actually not a precursor to arthritis, and in general, doesn’t even cause long-term damage.

Fractures near a joint

One of the main ways sports activity can lead to arthritis is when a fracture is suffered near a joint. If the bone that breaks supports cartilage around a joint, the likelihood of arthritis is higher.

For example — a snowboarder who suffers a light break to the tibia after a particularly hard and awkward fall may not require surgery on the bone, but the injury could still come back to haunt him years down the line.

Ligament tears and pulls

Baseball players, and those who participate in other stop-and-go sports, run a serious risk of tearing the ligaments around the knee, the ACL. This and other similar ligament tears can be a precursor to arthritis down the road because the knee never returns to its prime form — it’s always slightly dislocated.

Other dislocations can have the same impact, not allowing a joint to return to 100% and thus triggering an early onset of arthritis. While this isn’t specific to any one sport, it’s something to keep in mind when you’re on the field or track. Sometimes it’s best to take it easy.

Can I participate in sports if I already have arthritis?

The answer to this question isn’t set in stone. We all need exercise, after all, and for many of us, sports are one of the things that keeps us sane in a chaotic world.

But remember, as we’ve said more than once in this article, to think big picture. Maybe start with a low-impact sport like golf. If you like to be on the move, consider power walking instead of running or jogging.

Swimming and cycling are great options as well, because they keep your entire body active without constantly pounding the joints.

High-impact sports are only going to make your arthritis worse, so try to avoid hard-hitting games like football or fast-action sports that can increase your chance of falling or crashing into something.

Sports and arthritis: preventative measures

  • Take an anti-inflammatory supplement. Before or after your sports or exercise routine, take a natural supplement to reduce joint pain and inflammation. New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel Oil, like that found in GLX3, is a proven way to minimize the impact of inflammation on your joints without a prescription or risk of major adverse side effects.
  • Maintain a consistent stretching routine. Stretch, stretch, stretch. If you paid any attention in gym class as a kid, you probably heard so much about the importance of stretching that you started to block it out. But those instructors weren’t kidding — proper stretching before participating in active sports keeps you loose, which in turn reduces the risk of injuries around your joints. Think big picture — take that couple of extra minutes to warm up.

Don’t over-do it. Think about your favorite sports team. Pro athletes undergo a rigorous training schedule on top of a long season. Now and then, they have to take a day off (there’s only one Cal Ripken, Jr. after all). Otherwise, by the time the post season arrives they are tired and their bodies are burned out. The same applies to amateur athletes as well — you might think you can swing the golf clubs every day, but sooner or later the repetitive motion is going to catch up to you. Give your body a break when it asks for it!