Background: The relationship between Olympic career sport injury and the long-term musculoskeletal health of the elite athlete remains unclear. This study describes the lifetime prevalence of medical attention injuries that occurred during training and/or competition as part of the athlete's Olympic career, reasons for retirement from Olympic sport, and the point prevalence of pain and osteoarthritis (OA) among retired Great Britain's (GB) Olympians.
Methods: This cross-sectional study involved distributing a questionnaire to retired GB Olympians who had competed at 36 Olympic Games between Berlin 1936 and Sochi 2014. The questionnaire captured Olympic career injury history (lasting ≥ 1 month), sport exposure, musculoskeletal pain (last 4 weeks), physician-diagnosed OA, and joint replacement. Injury prevalence was calculated for sports with a minimal of 15 respondents. Adjusted odds ratios (aOR) were estimated in logistic regression for pain, OA, and joint replacement. Models were adjusted for age, sex, BMI, and career duration.
Results: Six hundred fifty (57.8% male; 42.2% female) retired athletes representing 40 sports (29 summer; 11 winter), aged 60.5 years (range 23-97), completed the questionnaire. Overall, 721 injuries (368 athletes) were self-reported equating to a lifetime Olympic career injury prevalence of 56.6%. Injury prevalence was highest in field athletics (81.0%), gymnastics (75.0%), and track athletics (67.7%). Injuries most frequently occurred at the knee (19.0%), lower back (15.4%), and shoulder (11.5%). Of those injured, 19.5% retired from sport due to injury. Pain was most prevalent at the lumbar spine (32.8%), knee (25.3%), and hip (22.5%), and OA at the knee (13.4%), hip (10.4%), and lumbar spine (4.6%). Injury was associated with pain at the hip (aOR 4.88; 95% CI, 1.87-12.72, p = 0.001), knee (aOR 2.35; 95% CI, 1.45-3.81, p = 0.001), and lumbar spine (aOR 2.53; 95% CI, 1.63-3.92, p < 0.001); OA at the hip (aOR 5.97; 95% CI, 1.59-22.47, p = 0.008) and knee (aOR 3.91; 95% CI, 2.21-6.94, p < 0.001); and joint replacement at the hip (aOR 8.71; 95% CI, 2.13-35.63, p = 0.003) and knee (aOR 5.29; 95% CI, 2.39-11.74, p < 0.001).
Conclusion: The lifetime prevalence of Olympic career injury was 56.6%, with those injured more likely to self-report current pain and/or OA at the hip, knee, and lumbar spine and joint replacement at the hip and knee.
Keywords: Injury; Olympians; Osteoarthritis; Pain; Prevalence.