Is football terrible for the overall health? An absurd query, on the face of it. Surely youthful muscle and sinew, lung and hearts could simply gain from chasing a ball around. And as for all satisfied few who make it to the Premier League of the professional game, they will seem to be cosseted as racehorses. Their workout regimes are scientifically controlled, their diet prescribed – loaded with carbohydrates, low in fat as well as less in alcohol. Water instead of beer is currently the standard after match tipple.
But just how will they fare later in life? The newest research suggests that most is going to pay a price tag for their inflated salaries in the type of inflamed joints. Nearly half of former top flight pros are actually suffering from arthritis. One in 3 has had surgery as well as one in 6 is actually registered disabled, based on a Coventry Faculty survey into the long term health impact of professional football in the UK.
The Football Association is actually carrying out its own audit into the actual physical toll on players. By February next year, each damage that has maintained a player out of education for forty eight hours or even more must have been registered. “Once the facts are actually known, we are going to be far better in a position to have prevention strategies,” says Alan Hodson, head of the FA’s medical training centre.”
But certainly today’s professionals are actually fitter and better informed than the forerunners of theirs in the 60s, 70s and 80s? “That’s true,” says Hodson. “And if anything had stood still, the prevalence of cuts must have gone down. However, however, the needs of the game at the best level have gone up.”
No one is actually more conscious of the requirements than managers, under stress from chairmen and fans to receive results at all costs. They would like their very best players out on the park, whether they’re carrying injuries or perhaps not.
“I know of only one player that took 2 painkilling injections almost every match between the conclusion of December as well as the end of the season last May,” says sports researcher Martin Roderick of Leicester University. “Others take painkilling and anti-inflammatory tablets like they were Smarties. Professional sport is not favorable to health that is great, and the profession of a footballer is often a catalogue of injuries.”
Roderick is actually co author, with Dr Ivan Waddington, of Managing Injuries in Professional Football – a report on the job of club doctors and physiotherapists, commissioned by the Professional Footballers’ Association. “There tend to be more chartered physios and full time doctors than there used to be,” he says. “But half the physios in football are not qualified for a task in the NHS. Their appointment is actually a gift of the manager.”
In fact, the wonderful Liverpool sides of the 70s and 80s were operated by a dynasty which may have been referred to as the Order of the Magic Sponge. Bill Shankly’s successor was his physiotherapist, Bob Paisley. He in turn was succeeded by his physio, Joe Fagin. Only comparatively recently did Liverpool appoint a chartered physiotherapist, Mark Leather. He’s since moved on to Blackburn Rovers, allegedly after an argument over the state of Michael Owen’s hamstring with the supervisor, Gerard Houllier.
Houllier, however, appears mild mannered compared to several of the tyrants of the touchline that have controlled English clubs in the past. Probably the most coarse of all was Brian Clough – to several the best director England never had, but not a male to provide sympathy to the injured. “If you were not fit enough to have the side, you may as well have been in Australia as much as he was concerned,” recalls Alan Durban, a part of Cloughie’s Derby County side which, unbelievably, earned the tournament in 1972 with a squad of only sixteen players.
And now fifty nine, Durban is actually relaxing after participating in tennis at Telford Racquet Centre in Shropshire, where he was general manager until recently. Although he retains a great eye for a heel and good positional sense, he moves around the court with apparent discomfort.
2 years before, he’d a hip replacement operation. “I have to hold on to the banisters to get downstairs in the early morning since my joints are not very good,” he says.
Reluctantly, he concedes that football took its toll. “I had a couple of cortisone injections since I was afraid of losing the spot of mine. In those times you can just make a good wage through appearance cash in a profitable team.”
Derby’s quagmire of a pitch made strains and twists more likely. Regular tanglings with uncompromising opponents as Norman Hunter of Leeds, Chelsea’s Ron “Chopper” Harris and Tommy Smith of Liverpool put at risk any bone from the knees down.
Smith was arguably the craggiest defender of the generation of his. Today in his mid 50s, he became the most high profile footballing victim of arthritis when his disability benefit was drastically decreased after he had taken a demonstration penalty before the 1996 FA Cup Final. “I was drugged to the eyeballs,” he later admitted, this proud former “iron man” that had to go before a DSS tribunal and tell exactly how he can no longer get dressed, tie his shoelaces or perhaps actually get on and off the bathroom without the assistance of the wife of his.
In Smith’s day, cortisone was the regular method of masking pain before a match. “Some players had more than twenty injections in the exact same joint,” says Andy Turner, who did the survey of 284 former professionals in the Coventry Faculty study. Turner, thirty eight, had to give up playing local football 9 years ago after developing osteoarthritis in only one of the knee of his.
Reasearch from Scandinavia, he states, suggests that amateur footballers are much more at risk. They’re much less fit to begin with, have lower abilities and hence less understanding of ways to stay away from crude tackles. What is more often, as Turner puts it, “They do not fancy spending Saturday night in casualty receiving immediate treatment while their mates are actually out having a number of pints.”
He’s currently interested in follow up qualitative exploration with the good old pros that responded to his original survey. “One of them informed me that in case he might get hold of the physician that administered cortisone, he would strangle him.” Why? Because the hormone damages tissue if taken to excess. The FA and now has guidelines on the quantity of injections which could be administered: no more than 3.
But do the clubs may take any notice? Dr Roger Wolman, consultant in rheumatology and sports medicine at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex, is actually doubtful. “I have a sense that the mindset of the clubs has not actually changed,” he says.
He sees no less than one former professional footballer every month. “It’s a sport which entails twisting on a weight bearing joint. Therefore there’s usually a threat of meniscus or ligament (cartilage) injury making them much more susceptible to osteoarthritis in later life.”
Just how can the odds be reduced? “Lots of conditioning workouts to increase the muscles which help support the knees – leg presses, exercise bikes, swimming. And consider the suggestions of a seasoned clinician after an injury.”
Leicester University’s researchers praise Sheffield Wednesday as the most enlightened club when it came to giving its players time to recover. At the conclusion of last season, alas, Wednesday had been relegated from the Premier League.
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