Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

Does Playing Soccer Cause Knee Arthritis?

May 2, 2024

Our understanding of knee arthritis has changed significantly over the last 10 years with greater research on knee cartilage as well as the process of arthritis.  Knee arthritis remains one of the most common diagnoses we see in our Boulder Physical Therapy and Lafayette Physical Therapy clinics.  We have moved away from the old “wear and tear” hypothesis which associated activity with arthritis of the knee.  A key indicator is the rising rates of both sedentary Americans who don’t exercise and knee arthritis.  If activity alone was to blame we would expect knee arthritis rates to fall.  Instead we are seeing a positive trend between people who are active and lower rates of knee arthritis.  Cartilage is a dynamic tissue in our body requiring movement to provide adequate nutrition and lubrication to the joint.  Without movement low grade inflammation can build leading to increased swelling, pain, and lost function.

Previous research has not found a link between running, even up to marathon distances, and knee arthritis.  In fact, recreational runners had a lower incidence of knee arthritis compared to their sedentary peers.  Exercise seems to have a protective effect on cartilage in the body.  A more recent study has examined if soccer players have an increased risk of knee arthritis due to their play.

Wallgren and colleagues reviewed the available literature on the relationship between knee arthritis and soccer (JOSPT. 2024).  Authors reviewed a total of 11 studies including over 1800 soccer players and 4000 controls.  Consistent with prior research, soccer players who sustained a prior knee injury (ex. ACL tear) were at a higher risk of knee arthritis.  Interestingly, soccer players who did not have a history of a major injury did not have a higher incidence on knee arthritis compared to their peers.

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