“Play it safe.” You remember being told that as a child on the playground. But when it comes to maintaining joint health as you age, “play it safe” applies now, too.
We all have a tendency to overdo it at times. Baby boomers, as the first generation to try to remain physically active despite an aging frame, are especially notable in this regard. In fact, some orthopedists have coined a name for the injuries, ailments and day-after pain we often see in baby boomers who come to our offices: Boomeritis.
It’s an unfortunate reality that muscle loss begins in your mid-40s, and it’s possible to lose 30 percent of your muscle mass over the next 20 years. Aging muscles also lose endurance, become more susceptible to injury and need more time to heal from an injury. Add to that the fact that, like an ancient rubber band, your tendons and ligaments often lose elasticity. This leads to stiffer joints, and more limited range of motion. As a result, people in their forties and beyond are highly vulnerable to injury when they engage in overzealous or high-intensity activities.
That’s why an important component of maintaining joint health is to avoid engaging in high-intensity, high-impact activities that might cause injury to your joints. Sometimes the most difficult of all injury prevention techniques is self-discipline—knowing when enough activity is enough.
The Dangers of Overdoing It
Researchers looking at the effects of exercise and sports on the development of musculoskeletal disabilities, including arthritis, have found that people who participate in sports with high-intensity, direct joint impact—like football and soccer—are at risk for osteoarthritis. Sports involving repeated joint impact and twisting (such as baseball and soccer) also increase this risk.
Even if you’ve reached middle age with admirably intact joints, a single traumatic injury such as a broken bone, torn ligament, or moderate ankle sprain can promote deterioration of the cartilage and cause the injured joint to become arthritic in the future—even though the joint received proper medical care at the time of injury. When arthritis develops as a result of sport injury, it is generally referred to as “secondary” or traumatic osteoarthritis.
A sizable number of our patients who have developing osteoarthritis first came to see us because of joint injuries they sustained while pushing themselves on the basketball court or overestimating how far they could safely run. (On the latter point, see our post on how to avoid the most common running injuries.) A significant number of injuries are sustained near the end of an activity when fatigue begins to set in and balance becomes compromised.
Play it safe by playing it smart. Know your limits and prolong your joint health.