Background It has been argued that retirement from professional sport poses unique psychosocial challenges. These challenges may be exacerbated if retirement is accompanied by long-term health problems.
Objective The purpose of this study was to explore the experience of living with osteoarthritis (OA) from the perspective of retired professional footballers in the UK.
Methods Data were gathered via cross-sectionaI unstructured interviews. It is recognised that the “subtleties” and “personal meanings” inherent in chronic illness are best investigated using qualitative methods. Five retired-professional footballers between the ages of 61 and 68 years were interviewed about the changes experienced as a result of their OA and how they managed these changes. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).
Results Living with OA involved pain, surgery, medication and restricted mobility. Feelings of frustration were often associated with disruption to work, social and leisure activities. Three broad themes emerged which encapsulated respondents’ strategies to manage their OA-related problems: comparing self with former self and others; adapting lifestyle and positive reappraisal.
Conclusion All of the retired footballers used downward social comparison to manage the emotional turmoil associated with OA. For some this entailed comparing themselves with other retired players and served to reinforce feelings that they had nothing serious to complain about. Respondents continued to perform modified exercise and leisure activities, but were mindful of aggravating painful symptoms. Respondents demonstrated a positive attitude towards their condition. This was evident through the use of humour as a strategy for managing their OA.
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