Versus Arthritis Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis
University of Nottingham

Former rugby union players 'at greater risk of arthritis'

Published by Arthritis Research UK | 12 October 2017

Former rugby union players may be at a greater risk of developing arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems than the general population.

This is according to a new study led by the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis at the University of Oxford, which has suggested that rugby players may need to be monitored specifically to help address the potential impact that playing the sport can have on their bodies.

The impact of rugby on bone health

Generally, exercise and physical activity are encouraged as a means of improving musculoskeletal health, but the high-impact nature of rugby union means that the sport is associated with a higher rate of injury than for non-contact sports.

As such, researchers examined morbidity and health-related quality of life trends among 259 former elite-level rugby players compared to the general population, finding that the occurrence of osteoarthritis, joint replacement and osteoporosis were all much higher in ex-rugby players.

Results published in the journal Scientific Reports also showed that more former players experienced a quality-of-life impact as a result of mobility and pain or discomfort issues affecting their ability to take part in usual activities and self-care, underlining the practical impact of these disease trends.

The need for specific monitoring among rugby players

Although it was also observed that rugby players were less likely to develop diabetes, the research nevertheless indicates that the sport can take a toll on the body that may require more targeted monitoring and research.

The researchers concluded: "The magnitude of musculoskeletal morbidity in this population warrants proactive education and management within this at-risk sporting population.

"Further research in other sports may encourage the adoption of a more proactive approach to long-term health within elite and recreational sports, encouraging healthy sporting activity for all participants."

Arthritis Research UK's view

Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, comments: "Over 8.5 million people live with osteoarthritis in the UK. The condition is very painful and affects a person's everyday life. Our charity, Arthritis Research UK, feels that it is very important for us to support studies like this.

"This study provides information for those who play the sport on the short and long-term risks and benefits associated with rugby. It is also hoped that further studies, building on this work, will generate better preventative advice and treatment for both professional and recreational sports players."

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Posted on Friday 20th October 2017