Are competitive sports doing you more harm than good?

Jun 04, 2020
Our health expert questions whether older adults should continue playing sports after a certain age. Source: Getty.

I’m one of those people who played some form of sport, mainly soccer (or football, depending on where you live) and squash, from the age of five to 52. However, over the last 12 years, due to my right knee giving out, I’ve had to find alternative ways to maintain my fitness. I’ve tried a variety of therapies for bone-on-bone osteoarthritis including stem cell therapy, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, and numerous pharmaceutical and natural therapies. I’ve also had multiple injections directly into the joint.

Although many of the above therapies have given me significant relief, over the last three months the pain in my right knee has been unbearable to the point where my quality of life was being affected substantially. At the end of last month, I had a total knee replacement.

The knee still remains quite painful, but the pain is going away by the minute and I’m able to be quite mobile on crutches and with physiotherapy. It’s important with any joint replacement to do as much prehab and rehab as possible without going overboard. Pain is the body’s way of saying you’ve had enough.

The reason I’m writing this article is that I’m well aware that many people in my age group have worn out one or a number of their joints. Orthopaedic surgeons often say you will know when you need your joint replaced and that’s when they’re happy to do the procedure. I certainly knew it was time, being unable to walk downstairs without significant discomfort. Not to mention, the thought of walking up three flights of stairs was untenable. It hurt when I rolled over in bed.

From my experience, people shouldn’t be playing soccer into their 50s, let alone their 60s. Around 12 years ago I had to resuscitate a 61-year-old man who suffered a cardiac arrest 20 minutes into a soccer match. My knee finally caved in one month after this incident and both examples made me seriously consider my choice of sport. But I loved soccer and squash, including the mateship and the enormous stress relief of purely playing a game with your mates and I still miss both of those activities to this day. However, I now believe that people should stop playing competitive sport after the age of 35. Instead, opt for alternative exercises like light walking or strength-building moves.

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