Which Sports Carry a High Risk of Back Injuries & Arthritis Development?

Sports is one way to stay active, and to maintain your health.  However, you should be aware that some sports have a high risk of related back injuries, which can result in arthritis in your back (and other joints) at a younger age than normal.  Therefore, it is wise to think twice about your participation in them. What follows is a discussion of some of the sports and things to consider.


Sports to reconsider

Some of the worst sports for causing back injuries and the development of arthritis are: football, ice hockey, long distance running, gymnastics, weightlifting, and martial arts sparring.

The reason these sports are considered to be a high risk of injury to the spine varies from physical contact that can jar the spine, twisting movements that are abnormal for your spine, and poor lifting techniques (in the case of weightlifting). These repetitive injuries to the spine can result in arthritis of the spine much earlier than the average adult who does not participate in these kinds of sports.

However, don’t think that this is an excuse for spending more time on the couch watching TV. You can either choose to participate in other sports that will have less risk of producing early-onset arthritis in your back and the resulting pain, or you can perform in these sports if you understand the risks and do things which may mitigate or lessen the risks.  However, it is important to understand that this is not always possible.  Gymnastics is one sport that requires the back to be bent in ways that it is not meant to move, resulting in more back joint issues and potential for early arthritis of the spine.


It is not always going to happen

Just because some sports such as gymnastics are much are more likely to cause early arthritis and back pain, it doesn’t mean that if you participate in other kinds of high-risk sports that you will necessarily suffer from these problems. A lot of people can play high risk sports regularly and not suffer from any problems at all.

The main thing is to be aware of the risks of injury to your spine, and to be sensible. If you have suffered an injury while playing a sport, then do not return to playing until the injury has fully healed. A lot of soccer and hockey players rush back into playing before their injuries heal, and this can lead to severe back pain and even arthritis in years to come.


Do the right exercise to feel better

If you have arthritis or back pain problems from playing sports, then the best remedy for this—is participation in the right form of exercise. You need to make the muscles around the affected area stronger to provide higher levels of protection.

Good stretching and mobilization exercises are also very important. These will help to alleviate stiffness associated with back pain and arthritis. It is wise to consult with a medical professional in these situations such as a physical therapist. He/she can advise you on what exercises to perform to improve the situation.


Tips while playing sports

Always ensure that you go through a proper warm-up process for around 5 to 10 minutes before you start to play the sport in question. This will help you to prevent injuries.

If you are new to a sport, then it is normal for you to experience pain in some areas of your body, such as your back, because the associated muscles are not used to this form of exercise. A bit of pain is one thing, but if your back starts to really hurt when playing sports, then you need to stop and get medical advice.

Try aerobic exercises to counter back pain and arthritis. You will strengthen your heart, and this leads to more efficient muscle use. For arthritis sufferers, try swimming, walking, yoga or cycling. Don’t rush things—it can take several weeks before you notice any significant improvement. Your doctor can give you more specifics on what is normal, and what isn’t.


To summarize

Some sports carry an increased risk of back pain, including the development of arthritis in the back. You need to be aware of the risks, and then decide what is an acceptable risk for yourself. In addition, if you have children, it is wise to consider the risks that certain sports pose for them too.



Kathy Lawrence has 20 years of experience as a Physical Therapist.  Kathy received her Master of Physical Therapy degree in 1999 from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  Then followed up with her Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy in 2008 from A.T. Still University.  She prides herself in her focus on Healthy Aging.  Whether it’s wellness, pain management, or helping recover from an injury Kathy has been instrumental in keeping our aging population on their feet.

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  1. Pingback: Should Your Child Specialize in a Sport? Top Considerations for Parents of Active Kids – LKN Connect

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