Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Career Ending Injuries May Be More Depressing Than We Thought (Sports Med Res)


Monday, November 13, 2017

Career Ending Injuries May Be More Depressing Than We Thought

Associations between retirement reasons, chronic pain, athletic identity, and depressive symptoms among former professional footballers

Sanders G, Stevenson C. 2017; European Journal of Sport Science. ahead of print.

Take Home Message: A career-ending injury makes a professional athlete more likely to have depression symptoms during retirement. Experiencing chronic pain and maintaining a high sense of athletic identity also increase risk of depression.

Numerous factors increase the risk of depression following retirement from a professional sport. However, we often study each factor without considering the other factors, and little is known if athletic identify and retirement reasons are associated with depression later in life. Therefore, the authors examined relationships between career-ending injury, chronic pain, athletic identity, and depressive symptoms in 307 retired United Kingdom professional footballers (~47 years old).Participants completed an online survey, where they answered questions regarding demographic information (age, duration of career, level of career, year of retirement, reason of retirement), depressive symptoms (Short Depression-Happiness Scale), pain (11-point pain intensity numerical rating scale), and athletic identity (Athletic Identity Measurement Scale). The authors found that 48 participants (16%) reported depressive symptoms. Within the depressed cohort, career ending injury (73%) and injury-related pain (96%) were the main reasons they retired. In the non-depressed cohort injury-related pain (64%) and family/personal reason (43%) were the main reasons for retirement. The athletes reporting depression symptoms were also younger and more recently retired. Lastly, the authors found that athletes were 3 times more likely to be depressed if they retired due to the injury, and they were almost 1.5 times more likely to be depressed if they reported chronic pain and a greater sense of athletic identity.

Many of the athletes reported that presence of injury-related pain was the main reason for retirement (211; 69%); however, the authors found that one of the largest risk contributors to depression symptoms after retirement was a career-ending injury. They also found that those with a strong sense of athletic identity were more likely to be depressed. This suggests that the abruptness of leaving a career when an athlete has a significant tie to it can lead to negative emotional effects later in life. These findings provide support for retired athletes to have continued medical care. Currently, medical professionals should understand the risk factors that contribute to depression in athletes later in life. Clinicians need to educate athletes on the appropriate follow-up care especially in athletes with career-ending injuries. This follow up care may also need to include psychological support. Additionally, we may be able to advocate for other roles for the athlete to maintain some athletic identity such as participating as a coach or being involved administratively in that club or association.

Question for Discussion: Have you ever followed up with an athlete after a career ending injury? Do you think we would see similar results in a collegiate population? Do you think involvement in the athletic community (coach, lower level participants, administrating) would help the athletic identity to halter depressions symptoms?

Written by: Jane McDevitt, PhD
Reviewed by: Jeff Driban

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