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EXPERT REACTION: Former rugby players suffer arthritis, joint replacements

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Former elite rugby players are at greater risk of osteoarthritis, joint replacement and osteoporosis compared to the rest of the population, according to data from the UK. Comparing 259 former, elite, male rugby players to other similarly-aged participants of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing found that the former rugby players were more likely to report health issues related to pain and mobility. Osteoarthritis was four times higher and joint replacement six times higher than the general population, although the former rugby players were less likely to have developed diabetes.

Journal/conference: Scientific Reports

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-12130-y

Organisation/s: University of Oxford, UK

Funder: Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis; Rugby Football Union.

Media Release

From: Springer Nature

Former elite male rugby union players are at greater risk of suffering from osteoarthritis, joint replacement and osteoporosis compared to the rest of the population, according to a study in Scientific Reports this week.

Using self-reported questionnaires, Madeleine Davies, Nigel Arden and colleagues assessed aspects of health amongst 259 former elite, male rugby players, compared to an age-standardised sample from the general population. The authors found that compared to 5,186 participants from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, rugby players aged 50 and above were more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, joint replacement, and site-specific joint replacement at the hip and knee. The authors also found that rugby players were twice as likely to report problems related to mobility and pain or discomfort compared to 2,981 participants from the Health Survey for England. Rugby players had a significantly lower risk of diabetes compared to this group, which may reflect a higher level of lifetime physical activity, although this cannot be confirmed as data on current activity was not available in both groups.

The authors propose that the risk of osteoarthritis among elite rugby players warrants proactive education and management within this sporting population. Further research is needed to examine the application of these findings in modern rugby (the participants were from the amateur era and modern professional rugby has many differences, including player physique), for female participants, and for those participating at lower levels.

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Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Alasdair Dempsey is a Senior Lecturer within the School of Psychology and Exercise Science at Murdoch University

It should be noted, as the authors pointed out in their study, that this was a survey of elite players, and does not necessarily reflect your average player.

We know that osteoarthritis, for which joint replacement is the final treatment, is associated with injury and elite players are more likely to have sustained injuries due to higher impacts and greater exposure – more games and more training.

Leg injuries leading to osteoarthritis occur at similar rates in non-contact sports like soccer and basketball.

It should be noted that with appropriate training you can also reduce your risk of suffering such injuries.

Last updated: 28 Sep 2017 2:41pm

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