Sports activities cause increased loads in elite athletes' joints. Current scientific knowledge highlights the importance of applied mechanical loads on the physiology and pathophysiology of the articular cartilage. Thus, it is possible that sporting activity has a role in the development of osteoarthritis (OA), a painful and damaging joint disease. The aim of the present study was to investigate and record osteoarthritic alterations in the ankle and foot complex in former Greek soccer players and also compare them with those in the general population. The study sample consisted of 170 male, former elite soccer players, aged between 42 and 55 years (mean = 49.8 years, standard deviation [SD] = 7.4). A control group of 132 men, aged between 42 and 55 years (mean, 50.7 years, SD = 9.9), with no regular athletic activity were examined. The development of osteoarthritic alterations was recorded through a questionnaire and clinical and radiological examination. Radiographic analysis of the images in former athletes group showed not only more signs of cartilage degeneration in comparison with the control group (P < .05) but also similar clinical manifestations (pain and impaired mobility; P > .05). Osteophyte formation is a frequent disease among former soccer players--with variations on radiographic images--but it does not appear in their clinical picture. However, it is likely that both spurs and subchondral sclerosis (main findings) are preclinical manifestations of OA.
Levels of evidence: Prognostic, Level II.