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Former cricketers 'more likely to experience osteoarthritis and joint surgery'

Published on 07 November 2017
Former cricketers 'more likely to experience osteoarthritis and joint surgery'

Elite-level cricketers are more likely than most to experience osteoarthritis and other related bone health issues, according to new research.

The University of Oxford-led study, which was supported by the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis* and the England and Wales Cricket Board, has offered evidence that more needs to be done to monitor and address the specific health risks associated with the sport, and to offer tailored support for those in need.

The impact of cricket on musculoskeletal health
For this research, a group of 113 former elite cricket players were asked to complete a health questionnaire, with their results compared to those of 4,496 members of the general public.

According to results published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, a total of 51.3 per cent of former cricketers went on to develop osteoarthritis, which is significantly higher than the rest of the population. Moreover, 14.7 per cent and 10.7 per cent respectively underwent total hip or knee replacement surgery after their playing careers had ended, which again is much higher than the rate seen among the general public.

Although this study does indicate that former elite cricket players may be at increased risk of developing osteoarthritis, the exact reason behind this is unclear. Other risk factors may also have added to this increased risk, such as body mass index scores, family history or injury.

The need for better monitoring of health risks
However, the report also revealed that former cricket players saw a number of relative health benefits, experiencing heart problems much less frequently than the rest of the population due to the heart health benefits of regular physical activity.

Moreover, 97 per cent of former cricketers said they would repeat their cricket career all over again if they could, while 98 per cent said the sport had enriched their lives. This shows that the most important consideration should be to highlight all the possible positive and negative outcomes of long-term sporting participation, which would allow talented sportsmen to pursue these careers in an informed manner.

Lead researcher Betsy Jones, from the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences, explained: "With the importance of physical activity to a healthy lifestyle, it's important for us to acknowledge the health benefits and understand any negative impacts of sport so that we can inform healthy participation.

"Our first study findings in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport will contribute to the dialogue on the benefits and risks in sport, and how best to care for the long-term health of elite athletes."

Centre deputy director Professor Nigel Arden added: "The cricket studies are among several projects our centre is undertaking to find out more about the effect of playing sports such as cricket, rugby and football on players' joints and overall health in later life.

"It is important to assess the effects of sport participation on all aspects of players' health and quality of life, and we have demonstrated some of the long-term benefits of exercise in this study. We will continue to determine which risk factors may be contributing to the increased risk of osteoarthritis so that we can better understand its development and ultimately design prevention strategies."

Arthritis Research UK's view
Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: "More than 8.5 million people live with osteoarthritis in the UK. The condition is very painful to live with and affects every part of a person's life. At Arthritis Research UK, we are committed to finding better preventative methods, treatments and care.

"Studies like this help us to understand more about the relationship between sports and osteoarthritis. The more we understand, the more we can prevent and treat this condition, as well as promoting great ways to keep active."

* - The Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis is led by Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and is a consortium of seven universities: Oxford, Nottingham, Southampton, Bath, Loughborough, Leeds and University College London.

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