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Taking the pain out of sport

Published on 01 January 2011
Source: Arthritis Today

A man stretching before exercising
As the traditional New Year rush to the gym gets under way, Arthritis Research UK has launched a new campaign to find out more about the extent to which injury can stop people keeping fit. Arthritis Today reports.

Playing sports and exercising regularly can have huge benefits: greater fitness, emotional wellbeing and keeping your weight down to name a few, but there are also hazards.

While exercise is good for the joints, some activities can lead to long-term harm. Sports injuries can occur suddenly, causing pain and interrupting sport and exercise regimes for weeks or months, and can sometimes even mean having to give up an activity. Alongside the ‘single event’ injury there are the ‘wear and tear’ consequences of repetitive loading on a joint.

While it’s known that there are some links between the joint damage caused by sports injuries or the wear and tear of repetitive activity and the painful and disabling condition osteoarthritis, there is a need to increase that knowledge in order to better prevent and manage injuries.

According to a recent survey, more than half of the active public has sustained injuries such as a sprained ligament, fractures and broken bones, and studies show that on average 50 per cent of those diagnosed with common sports injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament or meniscus tear will develop osteoarthritis.

In October, Arthritis Research UK and The Institute of Sport and Exercise Medicine hosted a conference in London ‘Tackling osteoarthritis in sport’, which highlighted the serious lack of research into the prevention and management of osteoarthritis as a result of a sports injury, and calling for more research to understand more about the long-term risks of such injuries.

"We need to find effective approaches to prevent injuries and, when they occur, improve management to reduce the risk of long-term consequences"

Professor Alan Silman, medical director at Arthritis Research UK, explains:

“Despite the overriding benefits of participating in sport and exercise, there are hidden hazards related to sports injury. From the limited research carried out, we know some sport-related injuries will cause osteoarthritis. While there is reasonable guidance on how to manage injuries in the short-term, there is no research into the long-term implications of sports injuries and osteoarthritis, and what we can do to better prevent and manage osteoarthritis.

“We need to find effective approaches to prevent injuries and, when they occur, improve management to reduce the risk of long-term consequences. We need to be able to give appropriate advice to keep people active in their choice of activities, for longer.”

While the sports injuries conference–which attracted a number of international experts–will lead to an exciting new research agenda for the charity (watch this space for further news) another strand of campaigning is actively seeking to involve people who play sport and exercise regularly.

“We need the active public to tell us their experiences so that we know what types of injuries they are suffering, how often these injuries are occurring, and about the advice and treatment that people are receiving,” says Professor Silman.

“By telling us their views and experiences, they are helping us to find new ways to look after active people and to prevent this debilitating disease developing.”

Arthritis Research UK has developed a short survey on its new ‘Taking the pain out of sport’ website and the public’s feedback will be used to help shape the direction of future research into managing sports-related ostearthritis in the UK.

As well as collecting evidence from the public on their experiences of diagnosis and treatment, health professionals and sports bodies are also being encouraged to take part.

Olympic Games medalist Sharron Davies and former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson are both supporting the ‘Taking the pain out of sport’ campaign.

Sharron Davies, who has suffered a number of debilitating injuries both during and since her swimming career, including a serious knee injury and frequent shoulder problems, says: “More and more sports people retire facing a life of debilitating joint pain, and understanding the effects of sport on the body is definitely a priority for elite athletes and the active public alike.”

Says Bob Wilson: “Although my playing days are behind me, I still feel the strains of a top-level career which, as a goalkeeper, meant operations on both hips. I wasn’t aware that osteoarthritis could affect me at such a young age when I retired, and this view is shared by many people who aren’t fully informed about the risks of sport on the joints of the body.”

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Case studies
Dennis O’Neill, aged 59
Forklift driver from Leeds

Dennis’s job is quite manual and involves him being on his feet 30 hours a week, and because of the osteoarthritis in his knee he is limited to doing any of the activities he enjoys.

He used to be extremely active, playing rugby and football and did weightlifting and running until the age of 25. He has had various injuries; and indeed doing rugby he has broken his nose, collar bone and twisted his ankles several times. He was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2009 and is worried it is going to get worse.

Dennis says: “It’s very painful and affects me every day. I have pain at night when I am in bed and my joint is stiff when I wake up in a morning. It gets me down and it also affects how I am with other people like my wife because I am in pain and frustrated. I used to love doing swimming and walking; I just put it down to old age that I can no longer do these things. My knee really does hold me back.

“I have been in discussions with orthopaedic surgeons with the possibility of having a knee replacement but they say I am too young at the moment.”

Juanita Duffett, aged 43
Wellness manager from Hertfordshire

Juanita exercises for around seven hours a week, including running and instructing aerobics, toning classes and kinesis. She says: “I’ve been active for most of my life but I first became aware of a problem with my foot when I was training for the London Marathon in 2009.

“I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the base of my big toe and I have hardly any cartilage remaining between the joint. I believe that sport has caused my condition as I have always participated in high impact sport; I was a long distance runner and took part in many half marathons.

“The thought of having this pain for the rest of my life is quite daunting. I am extremely fit and find it so frustrating that I have this limitation. I worry that the joint will degenerate more and that I will have to become inactive, but the thought of that is unbearable as there is so much more I want to do!”

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