Can Exercise Wear Out Your Joints?

Posted by M ws On Thursday, December 6, 2012 0 comments
In June this year, THIS SITE featured an article by Professor Patrick McNeil that discussed the impact of exercise on our joints.

Excerpt from the article:

Have you got creaky knees or achey hips? Do you grimace every time you have to climb a set of stairs?

Everyday movements can become a chore when the cartilage in your joints starts to break down, making them stiff and sore.

Sore joints are the hallmark of the condition known as osteoarthritis. And since it's increasingly common as we age, it's easy to assume a lifetime of activity is to blame.

But is this really the case? With every movement our limbs make, are we literally wearing our joints away?

No, says Sydney arthritis expert, Professor Patrick McNeil.

Plenty of older people who've been active all their lives never develop osteoarthritis, he points out.

And the idea our joints are like car tyres or light bulbs with a limited number of "uses" before their lifetime expires is simply untrue, McNeil says.

"I think it's a myth to make the general statement that exercise is bad for your joints or actually wears your joints out. There's no evidence for that."

Injuries and arthritis

But the relationship between exercise and cartilage loss is complex. For most people, exercise helps joints stay healthy. But in some instances, it could be harmful, McNeil says.

When the alignment of a joint is incorrect – perhaps because of weakened muscles or because you were born with unusually shaped joints – it's feasible movement might have some role in wearing cartilage away. But a person may also need to have a genetic predisposition for this to happen.

"You could be born with cartilage that will last, no matter what you do to it. Or you could be born with cartilage that's less durable."

And even if your joints are perfectly aligned, this can change after an injury.

Sports that expose joints to extreme forces, making injuries more likely, are known to raise the odds of joint trouble down the track.

For instance tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – a major ligament in the knee – carry a 70 per cent risk of osteoarthritis within 10 to 15 years.

Even when the ligament is surgically repaired, the initial injury changes the stability of the knee permanently, so that over time it's more likely cartilage will break down.

The top three most risky sports for ACL injury are soccer, Australian football ("Aussie Rules") and netball.

Fortunately, exercises that strengthen key muscles around joints can reduce the risk of ACL tears and other injuries that predispose to arthritis by as much as 60 per cent. (For more info on these exercises read: Fighting sporty kids' arthritis risk.)

It's also worth noting that the processes leading to cartilage loss may be different in different parts of the body.

Osteoarthritis of the hands for instance seems to have a very strong genetic basis. MORE OVER HERE.

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