Depression and Pain in Retired Professional Football Players

Thomas L. Schwenk; Daniel W. Gorenflo; Richard R. Dopp; Eric Hipple


Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(4):599-605. 

In This Article


Retired professional football players experience depressive symptoms at a rate that is similar to that found in the general population, presumably with a corresponding rate of clinical depression. They bear an additional burden of substantial chronic pain. Depressive symptoms and pain interact to result in a strong correlation with self-report perceptions of the risk of sleeping problems, difficulty with aging, loss of fitness and lack of exercise, financial problems, and concerns about their use of prescription and recreational drugs and alcohol. Retired professional football players bear the same stigma as does the general population with regard to barriers to seeking helping for their difficulties with depression and pain, including not recognizing the issues as important, not knowing where to seek help, feeling they would be weak if they sought help, and being embarrassed by what family members and friends would think. One hypothesis worth further exploration is that the high level of physical disability and chronic pain with which these athletes leave their football career causes them to have significant difficulty maintaining their activity and fitness levels, thus predisposing them to an increased risk of depression. This population of retired professional athletes would benefit from a proactive educational and clinical outreach program, possibly beginning even before retirement on an anticipatory and preventive basis, to improve the likelihood that retired NFL players will achieve a high quality of life after football.

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