Objective -To compare the cumulative 21 year incidence of admission to hospital for osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, and ankle in former elite athletes and control subjects.
Design -National population based study.
Subjects -2,049 male athletes who had represented Finland in international events during 1920-65 and 1,403 controls who had been classified healthy at the age of 20.
Main outcome measures -Hospital admissions for osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, and ankle joints identified from the national hospital discharge registry between 1970 and 1990.
Results -Athletes doing endurance sports, mixed sports, and power sports all had higher incidences of admission to hospital for osteoarthritis than controls. Age adjusted odds ratios compared with controls were 1.73 (95% confidence interval 0.99 to 3.01, P=0.063) in endurance, 1.90 (1.24 to 2.92, P=0.003) in mixed sports athletes, and 2.17 (1.41 to 3.32, P=0.0003) in power sports athletes. The mean age at first admission to hospital was higher in endurance athletes (70.6) than in other groups (58.2 in mixed sports, 61.9 in power sports, and 61.2 in controls). Among the 2,046 respondents to a questionnaire in 1985, the odds ratios for admission to hospital were similar in all three groups after adjusting for age, occupation, and body mass index at 20 (2.37, 2.42, 2.68).
Conclusions -Athletes from all types of competitive sports are at slightly increased risk of requiring hospital care because of osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, or ankle. Mixed sports and power sports lead to increased admissions for premature osteoarthritis, but in endurance athletes the admissions are at an older age.