Prevalence of joint-related pain in the extremities and spine in five groups of top athletes

Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2011 Sep;19(9):1540-6. doi: 10.1007/s00167-011-1539-4. Epub 2011 May 11.


Purpose: Joint-related pain conditions from the spine and extremities are common among top athletes. The frequency of back pain has, however, been studied in more detail, and the frequency of low-back pain in top athletes in different high-load sports has been reported to be as high as 85%. Sport-related pain from different joints in the extremities is, however, infrequently reported on in the literature.

Methods: Seventy-five male athletes, i.e. divers, weight-lifters, wrestlers, orienteers and ice-hockey players and 12 non-athletes (control group) were included in the study. A specific self-assessed pain-oriented questionnaire related to the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, as well as the various joints, i.e. shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles, was filled out by the athletes and the non-athletes.

Results: The overall frequency of pain reported by the athletes during the last week/last year was as follows; cervical spine 35/55%; thoracic spine 22/33%; lumbar spine 50/68%; shoulder 10/21%; elbow 7/7%; wrist 7/8%; hip 15/23%; knee 22/44%; and ankle 11/25%. The corresponding values for non-athletes were cervical spine 9/36%; thoracic spine 17/33%; lumbar spine 36/50%; shoulder 0/9%; elbow 9/0%; wrist 0/0%; hip 9/16%; knee 10/9%; and ankle 0/0%. A higher percentage of athletes reported pain in almost all joint regions, but there were no statistically significant differences (n.s.), with the exception of the knees (P = 0.05). Over the last year, athletes reporting the highest pain frequency in the lumbar spine were ice-hockey players and, in the cervical spine, wrestlers and ice-hockey players. The highest levels of knee pain were found among wrestlers and ice-hockey players, whereas the highest levels for wrist pain were found among divers, hip pain among weight-lifters, orienteers and divers and ankle pain among orienteers. For the thoracic spine, shoulder and elbow regions, only minor differences were found.

Conclusion: There was no statistically significant difference in prevalence of pain in the neck, spine and joints between top athletes in different sports or between athletes and non-athletes. However, pain in one spinal region was correlated to reported pain in other regions of the spine. Moreover, pain in the spine was also correlated to pain in the shoulders, hips and knees.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Arthralgia / epidemiology*
  • Arthralgia / etiology
  • Arthralgia / physiopathology
  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnosis
  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Athletic Performance
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Hockey / injuries
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Lower Extremity / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pain Measurement*
  • Prevalence
  • Reference Values
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spinal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Spinal Diseases / etiology
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Upper Extremity / physiopathology
  • Weight Lifting / injuries
  • Young Adult