First Results – Physical Health

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Risk of osteoarthritis increased in female football players

Does a football career have any long-term health consequences? And if yes, what are the consequences? What are potential risk factors? How can we minimize those risks? Or does football primarily further overall quality of life and wellbeing in former elite players?

While acute football injuries have been researched extensively over the last two decades, very little is known about long-term health in retired football players. The recent controversy about the long-term effects of head impact have sparked our interest in the health of retired football players. We also hope that the knowledge gained will enable us to prevent potential negative health consequences in the future.

In phase 1 of the Head in the Game study, we surveyed German former elite female football players on their current health and injury history. Almost two thirds of all contacted players filled out the survey; here are some of the most interesting results:

Current Health

  • Around 70% of participants described their current health as good or very good; this value is 10% lower than data from the general population.
  • Over half (58%) of players reported knee problems during the last four weeks while exercising. A third reported knee problems during normal daily activities such as climbing stairs and walking.
  • The osteoarthritis risk in female football players was two to four times higher than the general female population of the same age group; knee (14% of players) and ankle (7% of players) joints were most commonly affected.

Risk Factors

  • Identified risk factors for presenting with osteoarthritis in knee or ankle include number and severity of previous injuries, age, training volume and level of play.
  • Players who reported more frequent and severe head injuries were more likely to suffer from headaches. However, the overall prevalence of headaches falls within the population norm.


In phase 2 of the Head in the Game study, we will carry out a detailed clinical evaluation of the neurocognitive and musculoskeletal health of retired players and analyze its potential association with previous injuries.

Participate now and help us solve some of the many unanswered questions regarding long-term health in elite football players!

Do you have questions of your own that we should address in our research? Thoughts? Ideas? Feedback? Comment below or send us an email:


The goal of the Head in the Game project is to evaluate and improve long-term health in elite men's and women's football. The main question we seek to answer is: does a professional football career have any consequences for the musculoskeletal or neurocognitive health of former players?

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