Wednesday, April 14, 1999 Published at 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Footballers 'disabled by injuries'
Footballers may pay a high price in later life
Former footballers are much more likely to suffer from the painful disabling condition osteoarthritis than the general public, according to research.
As many as 15% are registered disabled.
Some also complain of dizziness and migraines which may be linked to constant heading of the ball.
The research by the University of Coventry's Psychosocial Rheumatology found that 49% of current and former footballers have osteoathritis.
The average age of onset was 40. In the general population, less than 10% of men aged 35 to 44 develop the disease.
Its major symptoms are pain, stiffness, crackling and enlargement and deformities of the afflicted joint or joints.
Andy Turner, who led the research, said 284 footballers returned questionnaires about their health.
Fifty-nine per cent of former players said they had received at least one steroid injection during their career.
Most said they had been forced to play when they had not had enough time to recover from an injury.
Some former players said they would not have done things any differently if they had known when they were playing that they would develop injuries.
One said: "The state of my knees is definitely the result of my football career, particularly the fact that I was a defender, but, in no way, had I known then what the result of playing would be, would I have changed anything.
"I loved my football. I am hoping that my forthcoming knee replacements will further extend my physical capabilities."
Sixty-eight per cent of former players with osteoarthritis said they had problems walking and 61% had difficulty performing tasks such as washing, dressing and housework.
A quarter suffered from depression.
Sixteen per cent said their injuries had affected their work prospects, leading to early retirement or working fewer hours.
Several ex-players said they now suffered from constant migraines, feelings of dizziness or memory problems.
Some said they felt this was the result of constantly heading a football during their career.
Mr Turner said: "It is easy to diminish the problems reported by the respondents as a price worth paying for the glamour, fame and riches, but only about 800 of the UK's 2,600 professional players earn their living in the Premiership.
"In the lower divisions, many players earn little more than the spectators."
He added that increasing demands on footballers in terms of greater competition and pressure for a quick return after injury could mean disability and pain were likely to remain a major feature of life after football.
The Football Association (FA) is conducting research into long-term injuries.
Its medical committee is looking into head injuries as part of a 10-year study.
And a two-year research project which consists of an audit of all injuries suffered by professional players is due to finish at the end of this season.
The results will be published once they have been collated.
They will form the basis of recommendations to all involved in football.
Richard Hawkins, a sports scientist at the FA, said there was no conclusive proof that heading the ball led to memory or migraine problems.
But it was difficult to prove injuries were related directly to football unless accurate medical records were kept.
"If we track them throughout their professional career and they develop problems these can be related back to the injuries they sustained on the pitch," he said.
He added that treatments used to kill pain were no longer as disabling as those used 20 years ago, such as cortisone.
And players were less likely to be forced to play on with an injury.
This was because coaches were now more aware of the long-term effects.
Their training courses now include issues such as nutrition and health.
However, he admitted some players and coaches might feel under pressure to return to football before their injury had properly healed.