UT Health Austin Sports Medicine Timeout

Aging Athletes

Karl Koenig, MD, orthopedic surgeon at UT Health Austin and Medical Director of the Musculoskeletal Institute shares his thoughts about the aging athlete.



Many of us grew up playing sports and want to stay active as we age. In fact, as an orthopedic surgeon, my office is filled with people whose goal is to be more active and keep themselves healthy. Working with these folks is one of the best parts of my job.

Evolution and aging

Through advances in medical technology and a better understanding of our health and nutrition, we have extended the lifespan of the average human much longer than it was 100 years ago. These days it is not uncommon for people to lead meaningful and active lives into their seventies, eighties, and even longer. Unfortunately, the evolutionary design of our bodies is really only meant to last through reproductive and child rearing age, so as we move into our later 40s and 50s we tend to see a breakdown in our bones, cartilage and within our bodies in general. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stay healthy and active, but it is definitely something we have to manage as we get older.

Why do your joints break down?

Our joints are filled with fluid that actually gives nutrition to the cartilage that pads the joints. To keep them healthy it is beneficial to keep them moving and well lubricated. It’s also important to stay active so that you can keep your body weight down, which decreases the forces applied to your joints that cause wear and tear over time. As we say in orthopedics, motion is life and life is motion. As people become less and less active, they tend to have more pain in their joints. I often suggest alternative activities to help them boost their activities. For instance, patients who have pain in their knee or hip may find that hiking and running can cause them discomfort, whereas biking and swimming allow for great cardiovascular exercise while taking the pressure off the joints at the same time. This can often be a much more comfortable way to exercise.

What can you do to get better?

When symptoms get to be severe, people often consider having surgery or joint replacement. Surgery can be helpful for the right patient. We can often find ways to help them reach their goals without having to go that far (surgery). My philosophy is to give the patient as much information as possible about the risks and benefits of any treatment option they’re considering so they can make the best decision for their own personal circumstances. Of course, if you can achieve your goals with the easiest and least risky treatment, then that’s what you want to do. Sometimes that means medication or a specific physical therapy program. Sometimes injections or other modalities can be helpful, and of course, joint replacement surgery can be very successful depending on your situation. However, you should be fully informed about the different risks and potential benefits you may achieve with any of those interventions before using them.

Most importantly, we want you to remain healthy and active, so if you find you aren’t able to enjoy the types of activities that you want to be doing, please give us the opportunity to help.

For more information about UT Health Austin’s Musculoskeletal Institute or to make an appointment to see a specialist visit here, or call 1-833-882-2737.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin, the group practice designed and managed by the faculty and staff of the Dell Medical School, focuses the expertise of a team of experienced medical professionals to deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality. Our experienced healthcare professionals treat each patient as an individual, with unique circumstances, priorities and beliefs. Working with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room, and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.