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For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org

Research into movement in elite sports could help to prevent and treat osteoarthritis

Arthritis Today Spring 2017A Southampton FC footballer during a matchThe way we move our bodies during everyday life, including how we walk, sit, run and play sports, has an impact on our joints and muscles throughout our lives. That’s why Arthritis Research UK is funding innovative research to build understanding of the way athletes and professional sportspeople move and the stresses those movements place on their joints.

This insight will then be used to develop new approaches to treat the pain of osteoarthritis and to help people to exercise safely, reducing their risk of injury and of developing arthritis in the future.

Leading researchers from all over the country have been brought together by the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis to investigate the quality of movement of people from a range of different backgrounds and to explore how the way they move affects their joints and muscles. Maria Stokes, Professor of Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation at the University of Southampton, is overseeing a series of the Centre’s studies which focus on what can be learnt from the world of professional football.

She explains: "Our starting point has been to look at those sports where there's a high incidence of joint problems and osteoarthritis amongst players and former players. For example, we know there is a much higher rate of joint replacements among professional footballers than among the general population. So, we’re working closely with the elite football community to learn from their experience and expertise and then to apply that knowledge to prevent and treat arthritis in the wider population.

Waking up your muscles

"Our local team, Southampton FC, had a reputation for having far fewer injury problems than many other Premiership clubs, so we wanted to find out why this might be. They had developed a tailored training regime for their players and we’ve used elements of that, as well as a warm-up programme from FIFA, in the work we’re currently doing with young footballers.

"This warm-up exercise project is being led by physiotherapist Nadine Booysen and funded by the National Institute for Health Research. We’ve advised and encouraged young footballers to train using a specific set of exercises designed to wake up their muscles through the warm up and to get their joints moving in a way that reduces the amount of stress they’re under. We hope that by going out into local communities and getting young people started on this approach to training from an early age we’ll reduce their risk of injury, protect their joints from excessive stress and prevent them from getting arthritis in later life."

However, the evidence the Centre hopes to gather from this and other studies working with sports people, has a far wider remit than preventing osteoarthritis in future generations. Professor Stokes says: "We aim to translate whatever lessons we learn from this research into practical solutions which will directly benefit people living with osteoarthritis.

Working to reverse the symptoms of arthritis

"We have anecdotal evidence which suggests the type of exercise regime we’re using with our young footballers could be used to help to reverse painful symptoms of arthritis."Maria Stokes, Professor of Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation at the University of Southampton"We have anecdotal evidence which suggests the type of exercise regime we’re using with our young footballers could be used to help to reverse painful symptoms of arthritis. So, we’re planning new studies to test the effectiveness of this type of approach with different groups, including people already diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

"One study has already begun on hip osteoarthritis, led by Professor James Bilzon at the University of Bath. Ultimately, we believe our work could make a real difference to the treatment of osteoarthritis in the medium term, as well as preventing it in the longer term."

The Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis is led by Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust in collaboration with Arthritis Research UK and is a consortium of seven Universities: Nottingham, Oxford, Southampton, Bath, Loughborough, Leeds and UCL.

Read next: Giving people with arthritis a voice to explain why work matters

Sign saying 'Supporting people with arthritis to work'

Thanks to your support, the first stage of our Work Matters to Me campaign has ensured people with arthritis have been given an opportunity to explain to policymakers why work matters to them.

For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.