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College athletes experience more severe injuries and their long-term effects

College athletes often are sidelined from healthy lifestyles later in life, says a new study, "Current Health-Related Quality of Life Is Lower in Former Division I Collegiate Athletes Than in Non–Collegiate Athletes," published online before print December 6, 2013 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

College athletes experience more severe injuries and their long-term effects.
College athletes experience more severe injuries and their long-term effects.
Photo by Thomas Starke/Bongarts/Getty Images

An Indiana University study found that elite college athletes -- typically the picture of health and vitality -- often struggle to stay active in later years, facing limitations to their day-to-day activities in middle age that could be a result of injuries during their athletic career. Also you can take a look at another article by Bruce Reider, MD, "Quality of Life" published in the February 1, 2014 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

The goal of sport is to win, not good health, noted Robert Nirschl (1991) according to, "The School-Age Athlete," 1st Ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Co; 1991 by Nirschl R, and Sobel J. (Tennis. In Reider B , ed. Sports Medicine.) You can check out the site, "The Athlete of 'a Certain Age'."

College athletes experience more severe injuries and their long-term effects

Lead investigator Janet Simon, a doctoral candidate in the Indiana University (IU) School of Public Health-Bloomington's Department of Kinesiology, said researchers have long known that compared to non-athletes, college athletes experience more severe injuries -- and long-term effects of those injuries. She was surprised, however, with her findings that the former elite athletes also scored worse on depression, fatigue and sleep scales.

College athletes participate in physical activity that may increase chronic stress and injury and induce overtraining. However, there is little known about how previous injuries that have occurred during college may limit current physical activity and/or decrease their subsequent health-related quality of life (HRQoL), says the study's abstract.

Her study -- which focused on Division I athletes, considered the most competitive college athletes -- was published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine

"Division I athletes may sacrifice their future health-related quality of life for their brief athletic career in college," Simon said, according to the March 3, 2014 news release, IU study: College athletes often sidelined from healthy lifestyle later in life. "Also, when comparing former Division I athletes, non-athletes who were physically active in college and the general U.S. population, it appears that, in rank order of the three groups, non-athletes who were recreationally active in college had better health-related quality of life scores, followed by the general U.S. population. This may be because former Division I athletes sustain more injuries and possibly more severe injuries due to the rigor of their sport."

Here are more findings from the study, which analyzed questionnaires completed by 232 male and female former Division I athletes and 225 male and female non-collegiate athletes. The study participants were between 40 and 65 years old, and their scores were compared to a representative sample of the U.S. population in the same age range:

  • Former Division I athletes were more than twice as likely as non-athletes to report physical activity limitations to daily activities and exercise.
  • 67 percent of the athletes reported sustaining a major injury and 50 percent reported chronic injuries, compared to 28 percent and 26 percent respectively for non-athletes.
  • 70 percent of athletes reported practicing or performing with an injury, compared to 33 percent on non-athletes.
  • 40 percent of athletes reported being diagnosed with osteoarthritis after college compared to 24 percent of the non-athletes. Osteoarthritis has been linked to previous joint injuries.

Simon said athletes have access to a range of expertise during their college years, including strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionists, but they often find themselves on their own after graduating

"Many of the Division I sports are not lifelong sports, so it is important for the athletes to find sports and activities that can keep them active as they age," Simon said, according to the news release. "The most important thing is to stay active. You may have been a former athlete, but unless you stay active your whole life, you may be decreasing your quality of life."