BMJ Open Sports and Exercise Medicine
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OBJECTIVES: Little is known about the impact of elite sport participation on long-term athlete health. We aimed to: (1) describe musculoskeletal, mental health, reproductive/endocrine and cardiovascular characteristics in retired elite female athletes and compare to the general population and (2) explore athletes' perceptions of their elite sport participation and its impact on health.
METHODS: A 136-item online questionnaire was disseminated to Canadian elite female rowing and rugby athletes >18 years old, >2 years retired from elite competition. Matched general population data were obtained from Statistics Canada when available.
RESULTS: Seventy-four (24% response rate) athletes (average age 45 (±9) years; retired 15 (±9) years) completed the questionnaire (30 rowing, 44 rugby athletes). During their career, 63 athletes (85%) experienced a hip/groin, knee, foot/ankle injury, or low back pain, with 42 (67%) reporting ongoing symptoms. Athletes 35-54 years reported worse knee symptoms and quality of life compared with the general population (symptom: p=0.197; d=1.15 [0.66, 1.63]; quality of life: p=0.312 d=1.03 [0.54, 1.51]) while other hip, knee and foot/ankle outcome scores were similar. Retired athletes had lower odds of anxiety (OR=0.155 [95% CI0.062 to 0.384]), greater lifetime/ever odds of amenorrhea (OR=6.10 [95%CI 2.67 to 13.96]) and gave birth when older (p
CONCLUSION: These novel insights can inform future preventative efforts to promote positive elite sport-related outcomes for current, former and future female athletes.