Few Sports Linked to Increased Risk of Knee Osteoarthritis

Soccer as well as elite long-distance running, weightlifting, and wrestling appear to increase one's risk of developing knee osteoarthritis, while other sports do not, a review of past studies finds.

Soccer as well as elite long-distance running, weightlifting, and wrestling appear to increase one’s risk of developing knee osteoarthritis (OA), while other sports do not, a review of past studies finds. The findings were presented last month at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in Chicago.

The researchers reviewed 16 previous studies looking at the association between sports participation and knee OA. The studies included only males and looked at evidence of knee OA, rate of total knee replacement, and rate of placement on a waiting list for knee replacement in the years after subjects retired from participating in sports. Subjects of the previous studies were divided into elite athletes (who had competed on a national, Olympic, or professional team) and non-elite athletes (who had competed on scholastic teams or recreationally).

Of 3,192 sports participants and 3,485 non-participants in the previous studies, 8.4% of sports participants had knee OA compared with 9.1% of non-participants. However, the risk of developing knee OA varied depending on the sport played and, in some instances, the level at which it was played. Those who played soccer had a relative risk (RR) of 4.4, while elite long-distance runners had a RR of 3.2, elite weightlifters had a RR of 6.4, and elite wrestlers had a RR of 3.7. Even in the absence of injury, non-elite participants in soccer and American football had a RR of 3.6.

“The most reassuring aspect of the data is that most sports probably do not increase the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis, especially when competing at a recreational level,” said lead study investigator Jeffrey B. Driban, PhD, a research associate at Tufts Medical Center, in a press release. He added that for those seeking to minimize their risk of knee OA, good exercise options include non-contact, low-impact activities such as doubles tennis, swimming, and cycling. Driban noted as well that more research is required to better understand the risk of knee OA in non-elite sports as well as for female athletes in all sports.