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Self-reported sports injuries and later-life health status in 3357 retired Olympians from 131 countries: a cross-sectional survey among those competing in the games between London 1948 and PyeongChang 2018

Palmer, Debbie; Cooper, Dale J.; Emery, Carolyn; Batt, Mark E.; Engebretsen, Lars; Scammell, Brigitte E.; Schamasch, Patrick; Shroff, Malav; Soligard, Torbjorn; Steffen, Kathrin; Whittaker, Jackie L.; Budgett, Richard


Debbie Palmer

Dale J. Cooper

Carolyn Emery

Mark E. Batt

Lars Engebretsen

Brigitte E. Scammell

Patrick Schamasch

Malav Shroff

Torbjorn Soligard

Kathrin Steffen

Jackie L. Whittaker

Richard Budgett


Objective: Describe the self-reported prevalence and nature of Olympic-career injury and general health and current residual symptoms in a self-selected sample of retired Olympians.

Methods: 3357 retired Olympians from 131 countries completed a cross-sectional online survey, distributed by direct email through World Olympians Association and National Olympian Associations databases. The survey captured Olympic sport exposure, significant training and competition injury history (lasting >1 month), general health (eg, depression) during the athlete’s career, and current musculoskeletal pain and functional limitations.

Results: 55% were men (44% women, 1% unknown), representing 57 sports (42 Summer, 15 Winter), aged 44.7 years (range 16–97). A total of 3746 injuries were self-reported by 2116 Olympians. This equated, 63.0% (women 68.1%, men 59.2%) reporting at least one significant injury during their Olympic career. Injury prevalence was highest in handball (82.2%) and lowest in shooting (40.0%) for Summer Olympians; and highest in alpine skiing (82.4%) and lowest in biathlon (40.0%) for Winter Olympians. The knee was the most frequently injured anatomical region (20.6%, 120 median days severity), followed by the lumbar spine (13.1%, 100 days) and shoulder/clavicle (12.9%, 92 days). 6.6% of Olympians said they had experienced depression during their career. One-third of retired Olympians reported current pain (32.4%) and functional limitations (35.9%).

Conclusions: Almost two-thirds of Olympians who completed the survey reported at least one Olympic-career significant injury. The knee, lumbar spine and shoulder/clavicle were the most commonly injured anatomical locations. One-third of this sample of Olympians attributed current pain and functional limitations to Olympic-career injury.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 25, 2020
Online Publication Date Nov 9, 2020
Publication Date 2020-12
Deposit Date May 1, 2020
Print ISSN 0306-3674
Electronic ISSN 1473-0480
Publisher BMJ Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 55
Issue 1
Pages 46-53
Keywords Olympian, retired, Olympic-career, sport, injury, pain, health
Public URL