Former rugbymen suffer joint, bone problems: study

Former elite rugby players were four times as likely to report osteoarthritis, a painful condition also known as "wear and tear" arthritis

Paris (AFP) – Former elite rugby players are more likely to report degenerative arthritis, osteoporosis, or anxiety than the rest of the population, but had a significantly lower risk of diabetes, researchers said Thursday.

A study seeking to weigh the health risks and benefits to professional players of this often violent contact sport, found that their joints and knees took a pounding.

“We have found that former players were four times as likely to report osteoarthritis, six times as likely to report joint replacement, and twice as likely to report osteoporosis and anxiety,” study co-author Madeleine Davies of the University of Oxford told AFP.

Osteoarthritis is a painful condition also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, and osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones that can lead to disability.

The study participants were on average 60 years old, and they had played rugby for an average 20 years. 

Of the 259 subjects, 142 had played at least one international game for England, the rest played for Oxford and Cambridge universities.

The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, revealed no difference in reported dementia between former players and other people — a condition that has been linked to brain damage from repetitive head injuries.

As for anxiety, the higher rate can merely be the result of routine examinations and diagnosis at the time that players leave the sport environment, said Davies.

The former players’ lower diabetes risk may be because of a higher level of lifetime physical activity.

“Further research is needed to examine the application of these findings in modern rugby, for female participants and for those participating at lower levels,” said a press summary.

The trial participants were from the amateur era, which had different rules and requirements for player physique to the modern, professional era.


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