However hard you’ll try, it’ll be very difficult to avoid football over the next couple of months, what with the culmination of the domestic and European season flowing into the 2018 World Cup in Russia. And whatever you say about the physical demands of the round-ball game when compared to other football codes – or lack of them – it’s an undeniable fact that the game can really take its toll on the body at the professional level.
In any further proof were needed of this fact, a recent study conducted by academics at The University of Nottingham reported that male ex-footballers were two to three times more likely to suffer from knee pain and knee osteoarthritis and require a total knee replacement, even after adjustment for other risk factors including a significant knee injury.
The report also stated that footballers reported more knee pain, structural knee osteoarthritis on x-ray and total knee replacements across all age groups in the study and especially in younger age groups (40-54 years).
A joint endeavour
The study – the largest and most comprehensive study ever conducted on establishing how common knee pain, osteoarthritis and knee replacements are among ex-professional footballers when compared with the general population and to look specifically at whether this was influenced by other factors such as previous knee injury – involved over 1,200 ex-footballers with an average age of 59 years, and their data was compared to more than 4,000 general population men from the East Midlands region with an average age of 62.8 years.
As well as the main findings, it was also revealed that ex-footballers had more osteoarthritis in the end joints of their fingers, were more likely to have an index finger shorter than their ring finger (which has been previously linked to osteoarthritis risk) and reported significantly more body pain, knee misalignment and use of painkillers.
What’s the cause for all this?
According to the study, the prime culprit has nothing to do with the risk of significant injury: rather, the blame is squarely pinned on what they call the ‘repetitive microtrauma’ of professional football. According to STATS – the world’s leading sports data company – the average professional football player runs for an average of seven miles a game, with some players pushing it to 9.5 miles, which is over 38 laps on the inside of an Olympic running track over the course of ninety minutes.
Not only that, but that movement is not in a straight line: there’s a lot of twisting and turning while other people get in the way.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of national bodies are coming to the conclusion that knee osteoarthritis is practically an industrial disease in the field of professional football. The best advice we can give to both pro and Sunday players is that strengthening the muscles around the knee through exercise can help, as does focusing on the supporting muscles and keeping them from tensing up during exercise, practice and games, along with refining and honing your balance.