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/ 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.