Radiographic changes in the lumbar spine in former professional football players: a comparative and matched controlled study

Eur Spine J. 2008 Jan;17(1):136-41. doi: 10.1007/s00586-007-0535-3. Epub 2007 Nov 1.


Heavy physical work and activity lead to degenerative changes, especially in the lumbar spine. We aimed to find out the occurence of radiographic changes (vertebral osteophytes, heights of lumbar dicsc, concavity index) and abnormalities of the lumbar spine in former professional football (association football or soccer) players according to their specialization (goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, forward) in their past professional sport life. We included 70 male former professional football players and 59 men as the control group. The football players group consisted of 15 defenders (21%), 29 midfielders (41%), 18 forwards (26%) and 8 goalkeepers (12%). Their mean professional football life was 11.04 years and the mean time period after their retirement was 13.87 years. Radiographs of both groups were taken to measure the disc height, concavity index and to determine osteophytes and abnormalities of the lumbar spine. FFbH-R score was assessed for daily activities. The mean FFbH-R score of football players was lower than that of the control group (P = 0.005). The total number of osteophytes in the player group was higher than in the control group (P = 0.001). The mean disc height of L1-L2 in football players was higher than in the control group (P = 0.045). The mean disc height of T12-L1 in goalkeepers was higher than in forward players (P = 0.019). The mean concavity index of L1 in forward players was lower than in defenders (P = 0.018). The mean disc heights of T12-L1 and L2-L3 were both higher in players whose professional sport life was >10 years than in players with </=10 years (P = 0.018, P = 0.016). The mean disc height of L5-S1 was higher in players who had continued sport activity after retirement (P = 0.025). No statistically significant result was obtained with the rest of the variables. Playing football is heavy work. The decreased height of lumbar discs and the lower value of concavity index of forward players are because the lumbar spine of forward players is loaded more than in the rest of the players.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Football / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteophyte / diagnostic imaging
  • Radiography
  • Spondylolisthesis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spondylolisthesis / etiology