It’s no secret that being active and engaging in regular exercise is essential for our long-term health. However, certain sports can be tough on our hip and knee joints and, over time, lead to the increased deterioration of joint health and mobility. These sports tend to be high-impact activities where the knee joint needs to absorb large or repeated shocks, or requires twisting motions. People who have osteoarthritis, a family history of osteoarthritis, or previous leg injuries should avoid these kinds of sports. If that is not an option, then taking extra precautionary measures is a must, such as strengthening the muscles around the joint, always doing a long and proper warm-up, and being mindful of proper form and balance while playing.

Here are the top 4 toughest sports on your hips and knees, and what you can do to protect your joints:

1 – Skiing

One of the most common ways to injure a knee or hip is by a fall. Skiing is one of the sports with one of the highest chances of falling, and is especially dangerous when the slopes are icy or bumpy. Even without falling, skiing places strain on both joints if your form is incorrect, which can damage the joints over time. Mogul skiers have additional strain put on their knees by absorbing the shock of the jumps.

If skiing is a must in your life, then be very mindful of your form, make sure you do not lock your knees (especially on bumpy slopes), keep the muscles around the knee active to help absorb any shocks, and avoid doing dangerous jumps.

2 – Basketball

Basketball is a fast-paced sport with sudden stops, pivots, and jumps. The constant shocks and twists put a lot of strain on the knees, which act as the body’s shock absorbers. While the majority of basketball injuries are to the ankle and feet, the fast pace of the game can also lead to a hip labral tear or hip pointer. Over time, people who play basketball regularly and at a high intensity are at a greater risk of osteoarthritis, so be mindful of your long-term health when getting ready for a game.

3 – Singles Tennis

Due to the repetitive upper-body motions, tennis players may have strength imbalances between the upper and lower body. The short bursts of running with constant sudden stops burden the knees, while the hips lend their power to the forces holding and swinging the racket.

The most effective way to minimize damage is to do a long and deep warm up, and avoid sudden stops while sprinting (slow your speed before stopping completely and then stop with your knees unlocked, placing more burden on the muscles surrounding the joint). You can also consider playing doubles so there’s less running around.

4 – Plyometric Exercises + Weight Room Exercises

Plyometric exercises are exercises which involve a lot of jumping and the exertion of maximum force in short bursts (ex: burpees, lunges, jump squats). In a jump landing, the knee absorbs the force, making this especially taxing for these weight-bearing joints.

Lower-body weight room exercises are especially tough on the hips because it may be difficult to maintain proper form. Make sure to start your workouts with lighter weights before getting into the heavy lifting, and always dedicate some time to stretch out your muscles and joints afterwards.

How to safely practice tough sports

There is no guaranteed way to practice a sport that will ensure safety, especially if you play competitively, but if you consult your doctor or a training professional before practicing you will be more aware of the risks to your body and better prepared to employ safety measures. These include always warming up before engaging in physical activity and stopping immediately if you have sharp pain.

Aim for balance in your exercise regimen. Mix it up between weight-bearing activities (skiing, running) and non-weight-bearing activities (cycling, swimming).

That said, even if you have or likely will have osteoarthritis, there are many low-impact activities you can do that have minimal risk: elliptical training, doubles tennis, yoga, cycling on a flat surface, and swimming. When it comes to your long-term health, nothing is truly black and white. Staying active is one of the best ways to ensure healthy bones and joints, but you should stay mindful of the types of movements that may end up doing more harm than good.

*This blog is intended for educational purposes only, and is not an exhaustive resource regarding the topic discussed. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for you.