Living your best life with arthritis.

Youth Sport Injury and Osteoarthritis

With summer upon us, millions of Canadian youth are participating in sport activities every day. Sport and recreation is a great way for youth to get exercise, socialize, develop teamwork skills and improve mental and physical health. Unfortunately, the benefits of sport also come with the risk of injury. In fact, one in three youth aged 11-18 years will sustain a sport-related injury that requires medical attention each year, with knee and ankle injuries being the most common. Research has shown that these youth sport injuries, if not treated properly, can lead to osteoarthritis (OA) within 15 years, specifically a form known as post-traumatic osteoarthritis. Youth sport injury can also lead to obesity later in life, which happens to be another major risk factor for OA. This means that youth with 1 major risk factor for OA (joint injury) are in danger of acquiring a second risk factor for the disease (obesity).

Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints and affects more than 5 million Canadians nation-wide; the disease can cause moderate to severe pain, disability and even require surgery. Osteoarthritis symptoms generally appear 10-15 years after a joint injury, and by this time the disease is very difficult to treat. Unlike inflammatory arthritis, there are no medications to slow the disease process of osteoarthritis, so preventative measures are of even greater importance. The upside? We can ensure our youth take proper precautions to avoid injury and hugely minimize their risk of developing OA.

What can a coach or parent do to help?

The most important thing is to continue encouraging youth to participate in sports. Although there is a risk of injury and OA development later in life, we don’t want to incite fear or discourage beneficial exercise and physical activity. Instead, we can promote proper warm-up activities to prevent injury, ensure injuries are treated in a timely manner, and encourage youth to are fully healed from their injury(ies) before returning to play.

  1. Warm up prior to practices and games

    FIFA 11+ is a warm-up program developed by FIFA’s Medical Assessment and Research Centre. Research shows that FIFA11+ can reduce injuries by 40%. The program is about 20 minutes long and includes running, active stretching, strength, balance, plyometric exercises and an emphasis on technique, alignment, agility and landings. Plyometrics, also known as jump training or plyos, are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power, speed, and strength.

    Movement Preparation is the Canadian physical literacy program that uses similar exercises as FIFA 11+ but is geared towards younger soccer players, aged 7-13 years

  2. Following an injury, it is important to get the proper medical care and assessment. Self-care methods include icing, compression, elevation, and using protective gears (such as ankle braces). It is important to rule out serious injury (e.g. broken bone). Your physician may recommend you visit a physiotherapist for continued care.
  3. Allow injuries to fully heal before returning to play. These are the signs that it is safe for youth to return to a sport after injury:
    • No pain
    • No swelling
    • Location of injury feels strong
    • Able to sprint, run and jump
    • Confident and no fear of re-injury

Where can I learn more about this topic?

Dr. Jackie Whittaker is a physiotherapist and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta. Jackie’s research focuses on prevention of youth sport injuries and how youth sport injuries relate to chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis (OA) and obesity. She kindly provided us with the information for this blog post. Click here to learn more about her research and the topic of youth sport injury and osteoarthritis.

Jackie Whittaker

“The problem is that the pain and disability that comes with OA commonly results in inactivity, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes and other conditions that seriously affect your overall health. The only way to get ahead of the game is to reduce the number of people getting the disease. If we can identify people with warning signs early, we can intervene and prevent them from getting OA, or delay its onset.” – Dr. Jackie Whittaker