Ways to Play Sports Safely with Psoriasis

The health issues that can benefit from exercise are often the very ones that prevent us from putting on those tennis shoes. Psoriasis, a condition that cause uncomfortable, itchy red plaques on your skin, is no exception. Neither is psoriatic arthritis, which affects your joints. Though it’s especially important for people who have these conditions to stay active.

Why Playing Sports With Psoriasis Matters

Staying active is an important way to improve your overall physical and mental health when you have psoriasis.

A study conducted by Abrar A. Qureshi, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and his colleagues investigated whether people with psoriasis were gaining weight because of inactivity due to the condition or if the weight gain came before symptoms started.

“We found that being overweight typically came first,” says Dr. Qureshi. “The degree of psoriasis is often related to your body mass index.”

However, not all exercise is equal if you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight, with or without psoriasis. To achieve weight loss and to maximize your defense against psoriasis flare-ups, taking a stroll is not going to be enough, Qureshi notes. Higher-intensity aerobics — including sports like tennis, basketball, swimming, bicycling, and running (a minimum of 5 miles per hour) — are what have been proven to be most effective, he says.

Additionally, psoriasis is associated with a host of other health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease, cancer, and diabetes. Aerobic exercise and weight loss can help lower your risk for many of these health problems and improve overall health, and getting involved with an active sport can reduce the likelihood of comorbidities, Qureshi says.

Plus, about 30 percent of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, and activities like running, biking, and swimming can also help keep your joints flexible and your muscles strong.

While taking up a sport may seem difficult, you will be rewarded for your efforts, Qureshi says.

The Challenges of Playing Sports With Psoriasis

“If someone has severe psoriasis that gets in the way of exercising, they need to see a dermatologist and get as close to clearing their skin as possible,” Qureshi notes. “Psoriasis should not be an impediment.”

Even when your psoriasis is well-controlled, there are challenges when it comes to playing sports.

Intense workouts can be hard for people with psoriasis, as sweat can aggravate itchy plaques.

There’s also inverse or hidden psoriasis, which are plaques concealed inside skin folds, where sweat can be trapped.

For those who have psoriatic arthritis, symptoms like joint pain and stiffness can affect their ability to play sports.

“These factors can affect a person’s ability to exercise,” explains Qureshi.

Psoriasis-Friendly Tips for Playing Sports Safely

Try these strategies to help you get out onto the playing field without aggravating psoriasis symptoms.

  1. Use a barrier cream. Qureshi recommends using something like zinc oxide to keep moisture out of areas where plaques can form and affect your comfort during games. This includes your feet as well as your groin and other areas, such as your hands if your sport requires you to wear gloves (think: everything from baseball and hockey to racket sports like squash).
  2. Layer up. In areas where shorts can chafe skin, you should wear an under layer to reduce friction, suggests Qureshi. For example, wear a pair of socks underneath your shin guards to minimize contact and chafing. Just stick with loose layers, as firm clothing material can cause bleeding or worsen psoriasis plaques.
  3. Evaluate your equipment. Sports equipment is another consideration for people with psoriasis. Helmets and shin guards that don’t fit properly or any hard protective gear that can rub or chafe the skin can be a problem. So make sure your helmet or any other athletic gear is adjusted to fit well.
  4. Avoid injury. If you have psoriasis, you should be careful to avoid any type of skin trauma, as that can cause a new site for the plaques to form. This is known as the Koebner Phenomenon.
  5. Stay on top of your psoriasis treatment regimen. Most importantly, says Qureshi, your dermatologist can treat your plaques and help you manage your symptoms and minimize skin sensitivity. Before you shoot a goal or swim a lap, you need to get your psoriasis under control, and following your treatment plan can help prepare and protect your skin for the field of play.

“We are in the age when we want you to get back to all of your regular activities of daily living,” Qureshi says. “There are so many available therapies now, we can treat the psoriasis so you can start living an active life.”

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