One in four retired Olympians reported a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, the form of arthritis that causes changes in the joint and can lead to discomfort, pain and disability, the research found.
Elite retired sportspeople who had experienced a sports-related injury had a higher chance of knee and hip osteoarthritis when compared with the general population.
The athletes – who had competed at an Olympic level in 57 sports including athletics, rowing and skiing – also had an increased risk of lower back pain overall, and shoulder osteoarthritis after a shoulder injury.
Researchers hope the findings will help develop new approaches in injury prevention for the benefit of athletes now and in retirement.
The study – led by a University of Edinburgh based researcher – is the largest international survey of its kind, and the first to observe the consequences of osteoarthritis and pain in different joints from retired elite athletes across different summer and winter Olympic sports.