Purpose: To investigate the prevalence of lower extremities clinical and radiographic OA in former elite male athletes and referents from the general population and to examine its association with the participants' demographic characteristics.
Methods: Two hundred and eighteen former elite male athletes (soccer, volleyball, martial arts, track and field and basketball players, and skiers) and 181 male controls that reported no systematic athletic activity were examined by means of questionnaire, clinical and radiographic evaluation. Exclusion criteria were age younger than 40 years and a positive history of lower extremity surgery, bone or soft tissue trauma and inflammatory arthropathy.
Results: Overall, the prevalence of clinical OA between former elite athletes (15.6 %) and controls (14.4 %) was similar (n.s.). The prevalence of radiographic OA was significantly higher (p = 0.03) in former elite athletes (36.6 %) compared with controls (23.9 %). All the participants with clinical OA who underwent radiographic examination also had radiographic OA. The prevalence of clinical and radiographic OA was similar (n.s.) between former athletes of different sports. Age, body mass index (BMI) and occupation variably predicted the prevalence of hip, knee and ankle OA in both study groups.
Conclusions: In the absence of major bone and soft tissue lower limb trauma during their athletic career, former elite athletes may not be at increased risk of developing clinical OA. Radiographic signs of OA present at a significantly higher incidence and possibly precede the clinical onset of OA. Age, BMI and occupation are identified as strong predictors of the development of OA in former elite athletes.