The ex-footballers had more knee pain, structural knee osteoarthritis and total knee replacements which were prominent in the younger age groups (40-54 years). The study reported that male ex-footballers were two to three times more likely to suffer and required a total knee replacement although the risk factors including significant knee injury were treated.
The researchers from The University of Nottingham led the study in collaboration with FMARC (FIFA's Medical and Research Centre), the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and SPIRE Healthcare Group.
The study reveals that the former footballers with musculoskeletal pain were more prone to suffer from the knee problems including other conditions or diseases (diabetes, heart attacks and cancer), published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The researchers investigated the positive and negative effects of playing professional football, including the risks and benefits, said Professor Mark Batt, Director of the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis. Dr Gwen Fernandes and Professor Michael Doherty from the University's School of Medicine led the study.
In the study, over 1,200 ex-footballers (mean age 59 years), were compared with 4,000 men from the East Midlands region (mean age 62.8 years). The ex-footballers considered were from individual league clubs and professional football associations in the UK.
The researchers found that the ex-footballers had more osteoarthritis in the end joints of their fingers (nodal OA). Their index finger was shorter than the ring finger, and according to the previous research, these individuals were more prone to osteoarthritis risk. It was also reported that they significantly had more body pain, knee misalignment and used painkillers.
The modifiable risk factors (obesity management) and not engaging in other high-risk occupations post-retirement from professional football could contribute to osteoarthritis. Reduction in knee injuries in professional football would significantly impact on the development of knee pain, knee osteoarthritis and thus be requiring a knee replacement.
The 'repetitive microtrauma' of professional football is the main cause increased risk of knee osteoarthritis. The reported degree of increased adjusted risk (at least doubled) is required to identify knee osteoarthritis as an industrial disease for professional football.
Dr Stephen Simpson, Arthritis Research UK said that over 8 million people in the UK suffered from osteoarthritis. To study the long-term impact of specific movements on musculoskeletal health associated with sports, the elite athletes (professional footballers) were considered. The risk factors for osteoarthritis could be identified and effective ways for its treatment and prevention could be developed.
Retired professional footballers are at higher risk of osteoarthritis, Regular exercises are important for the sportsperson at all ages, as the long-term health benefits are immense. If injured, they must approach healthcare at the earliest for best recovery.