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No pain no gain? A conversation on Olympians’ long-term health
  1. Mike Miller1,
  2. Debbie Palmer2,3,
  3. Jackie L Whittaker4,5,
  4. Rebecca Pike1,
  5. Patrick Schamasch6,
  6. Malav Shroff6,
  7. Joël Bouzou1
  1. 1 World Olympians Association, Lausanne, Switzerland
  2. 2 School of Applied Sciences, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  3. 3 School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
  4. 4 Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Medicine, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  5. 5 Arthritis Research Centre Of Canada, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
  6. 6 Medical Committee, World Olympians Association, Lausanne, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Rebecca Pike, World Olympians Association, International Olympic Committee, Lausanne 1007, Switzerland; rebecca.pike{at}

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Willie Banks OLY is smiling, he usually is. Olympian, former world record holder and world champion. Inventor of the now ubiquitous track and field competitor overhead hand clap. Successful businessman and international sports leader. Life has been good thanks to elite-level sport. There’s just one snag, Willie has osteoarthritis in his knees and hips. He is in constant pain and attributes his osteoarthritis to past sporting injuries. Willie is not alone. Olympians and former elite athletes often link their past sporting injuries to their current musculoskeletal pain.

Addressing the balance: risk versus benefit

There are many benefits to a life devoted to elite sport, with numerous studies reporting the positive effects of sport including a lower risk of morbidity, better self-reported health in later life and higher quality of life.1–4 Despite this, major injuries including anterior cruciate ligament tears and substantial meniscal tears can contribute to radiographic and symptomatic osteoarthritis,5–8 and the risk of osteoarthritis in elite athletes may be higher than that in the general population.4

This reality raises questions. Is enough being done to educate and support athletes and their entourages so they can minimise the long-term …

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  • Twitter @DebbiePalmerOLY, @jwhittak_physio, @MalavShroff

  • Contributors MM, DP, JLW, RP, PS, MS and JB contributed to, reviewed and approved the final version of the article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests JB is the President of WOA and MS is a member of the WOA Executive Committee. MM and RP lead the WOA Administration. DP was commissioned by the WOA Medical Committee (chaired by PS) to conduct the Retired Olympian Musculoskeletal Health Study with a grant from the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission. JLW is a member of the IOC supported Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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