Depression among retired NFL players: Rates mirror the general public, but pain compounds symptoms

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As the sports world prepares for this weekend's National Football League draft and the excitement of promising young players entering the league, a new study from the University of Michigan Health System highlights the issues faced at the other end of the career spectrum, after players retire.

The study for the first time quantifies the pain and depression experienced by retired NFL players, and assesses other health issues that are impacted by pain and depression.

"We found that retired professional football players experience levels of depressive symptoms similar to those of the general population, but the impact of these symptoms is compounded by high levels of chronic pain," says lead author Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D., George A. Dean, M.D. Chair and Professor of Family Medicine at the U-M Health System and associate director of the U-M Depression Center.

The study appears in the current issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

To obtain the data, researchers sent surveys to 3,377 members of the NFL Players Association, Retired Players Section. Of the 1,594 people who responded, the prevalence of moderate to severe depression was nearly 15 percent, very similar to the prevalence in the general public. But the frequency with which the retired players reported problems with pain nearly half the people in the study puts them at significant additional risk for depression and associated difficulties, Schwenk says.

More than half had high scores in pain, depression or both. About 11 percent had high scores in both areas, 37 percent had high pain scores and low depression scores, and 4 percent had low depression scores and high pain scores. The remaining 48 percent had low scores in both categories.

In addition to the strong link between depression and pain, the relationship between these conditions and other issues also was

Contact: Katie Gazella
University of Michigan Health System

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