Injury has been identified as a potential risk factor for osteoarthritis. However, no previous study has addressed playing-career injuries and subsequent osteoarthritis in a large sample of former athletes. The purpose of this study was to describe the prevalence and determinants of arthritis and osteoarthritis in retired professional football players.
Self-reported arthritis prevalence and retrospectively-recalled injury history were examined in a cross-sectional survey of 2,538 retired football players.
Football players reported a high incidence of injury from their professional playing days (52.8% reported knee injuries, 74.1% reported ligament/tendon injuries, and 14.2% reported anterior cruciate ligament tears). For those under 60 years, 40.6% of retired NFL players reported arthritis, compared with 11.7% of U.S. males (prevalence ratio =3.5, 95%CI: 3.3 to 3.7). Within the retired NFL player cohort, osteoarthritis was more prevalent in those with a history of knee injury (prevalence ratio = 1.7, 95%CI: 1.5 to 1.9) and ligament/tendon injury (prevalence ratio = 1.6, 95%CI: 1.4 to 1.9).
In males under the age of 60, arthritis is over 3 times more prevalent in retired NFL players than in the general U.S. population. This excess of early-onset arthritis may be due to the high incidence of injury in football.
Golightly and Marshall are with the Dept of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Callahan is with the Thurston Arthritis Research Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Guskiewicz is with the Dept of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.