April 6 – Professional footballers often try to extend their careers as long as possible by dropping into the lower leagues but the international Players union FIFPro has warned that more than one in three former players over the age of 40 are now suffering from knee cartilage damage, “risking their long-term health or are unaware of the lasting effects of serious knee injuries.”
A FIFPro study among 400 active and 900 veteran former professionals reveals that 35% are suffering from knee osteoarthritis (a degenerative joint disease). That compares to 8 to 13% of the general population in the same age group.
“I know some old players who cannot even walk. They are cripples,” former Swedish international Pontus Kamark told FIFPro. The 48-year old quit when he was 32 after three cruciate ligament surgeries. “My doctor noticed that my knee cartilage was almost gone. He advised me to stop.”
Only two months earlier Kamark, who played for IFK Goteborg and Leicester City, had declined an invitation for Sweden’s 2002 World Cup squad because he did not feel fit enough. “I took the doctor’s advice. I considered my future health and wanted to be active, play ice hockey, tennis and golf for the rest of my life.”
Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge, FIFPro’s Chief Medical Officer, said club medical staff need to do more during a player’s career to prevent osteoarthritis in later life.
“The results of the study are a confirmation that there are often serious, long term effects from knee injuries,” Gouttebarge said. “This is the first research into knee osteoarthritis that includes active players and it gives us a clear picture of how cartilage damage evolves.”
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