UK Sports Institute, 40 Bernard Street, London WC1N 1ST, UK Scarman Centre, University of Leicester, 154 Upper New Walk, Leicester, Leicestershire LE1 7QA, UK.
Objective: To quantify the prevalence of osteoarthritis and the severity of pain in the lower limb joints of players retired from English professional soccer.
Method: An anonymous self administered questionnaire was distributed to 500 former players registered with the English Professional Footballers’ Association. The questionnaire was designed to gather information on personal details, physical activity loading patterns, history of lower limb joint injury, and current medical condition of the lower limb joints.
Results: Of 500 questionnaires distributed, 185 (37%) were returned. Nearly half of the respondents (79: 47%) retired because of injury; 42% (33) were acute injuries and 58% (46) chronic injuries. Most of the acute injuries that led to early retirement were of the knee (15: 46%), followed by the ankle (7: 21%) and lower back (5: 15%). Most of the chronic injuries that led to early retirement were also of the knee (17: 37%), followed by the lower back (10: 22%) and the hip (4: 9%). Of all respondents, 32% (59) had been medically diagnosed with osteoarthritis in at least one of the lower limb joints. More respondents had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the knee joints than either the ankle or the hip joints. Significantly (p<0.001) more respondents reported pain in one lower extremity joint during one or more daily activities than those who did not (joint pain: 137, 80%; no joint pain: 35, 20%).
Conclusion: The risk for professional soccer players of osteoarthritis in at least one of the lower extremity joints is very high and significantly greater than for the general population. The results support the suggestion that professional soccer players should be provided with health surveillance during their playing career.