Preventing knee osteoarthritis in youth who play sports

When kids injure their knees playing sports like soccer, not many of us think about how that injury will manifest itself 10 or 15 years down the road. Millions of Canadians currently live with the pain and disability of osteoarthritis. It is estimated that by 2040, 25% of all Canadians will have osteoarthritis. This percentage will be higher in those who suffer a traumatic knee injury.

Dr Jackie Whittaker is a research scientist of musculoskeletal rehabilitation at Arthritis Research Canada. The focus of her research is understanding the connection between youth sport knee injuries and early onset osteoarthritis, as well as osteoarthritis prevention.

Soccer is the highest participatory sport in Canada, and it is a sport with a high injury risk. While very good injury prevention programs exist, such as the 11+ Injury Prevention Program that can reduce knee injuries by up to 50%, it isn’t known what someone can do after an injury to minimize their risk for developing osteoarthritis.

Whittaker also describes that obesity and muscle weakness have been identified as risk factors, so keeping muscles strong and staying active after an injury to avoid weight gain are important. She points out that the red flag isn’t when you have swelling and pain, it’s when you are becoming less and less active because of your knee. The last thing you want someone to do is stop sport or physical activities altogether. However, it can be challenging and sometimes support is needed.

Currently, the treatment of young athletes who suffer a knee injury focuses on returning them to sport. Few seek care beyond their injury, and little effort is made to prevent osteoarthritis. Further research with a team of patients and clinicians is expected to improve treatment outcomes and reduce the burden of osteoarthritis and related conditions for young Canadians who suffer a sport knee injury.

For more information about Dr Whittaker’s upcoming research study, “Preventing osteoarthritis after a sport knee injury; Stop OsteoARthritis (SOAR),” visit

. Preventing knee osteoarthritis in youth who play sports. BCMJ, Vol. 62, No. 1, January, February, 2020, Page(s) 29 - News.

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