New National Research Centre to Reduce Sports Injuries’ Risk

On Monday (10th June) Arthritis Research UK will launch a new £3m research centre aiming to reduce the impact of sports injuries incurred by elite and recreational players and understand why some sport and exercise injuries develop into debilitating osteoarthritis in later life.

Researchers at the new Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis, led by The Universities of Nottingham and Oxford, aim to develop better injury treatments and screening tools to predict an individual’s risk of developing osteoarthritis following sports injury.

Centre director Professor Mark Batt, consultant in sport and exercise medicine at Nottingham University Hospitals, explained:

“Regular exercise is vital to keep your joints healthy and the long-term benefits of exercise far outweigh the risk of injury. Our centre aims to keep people of all sporting abilities active and injury-free by developing definitive, evidence-based advice and information to minimise consequence of injury and recommend effective treatments to reduce long-term damage.

This is the first time in Europe that specialists in sports medicine and osteoarthritis are combining their expertise to understand why some sports injuries will go on to develop into osteoarthritis, and whether we can prevent or slow down degeneration of joints.”

An injury to the joint is one of the main risk factors for osteoarthritis, along with ageing and obesity. Approximately 8 million people in the UK are affected by osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of joint disease. A poll carried out by Arthritis Research UK in 2011[1] found 40% of active people were worried about limited mobility and joint problems in the future.

Young footballers are at particular risk from a potentially career-ending form of groin injury called femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) which could be attributable to maturation and over-training. In FAI the head of the thigh bone rubs against the socket, leading to intermittent groin or hip pain in the short term, and potentially osteoarthritis of the hip in the longer term.

Arthritis Research UK researchers will scan young footballers aged nine to eighteen from a number of professional football academies, using state-of-the-art MRI, every two years. They will be compared to two other same-age groups – ordinary schoolboys and also young elite athletes from other sports.

The sophisticated MRI scans will be able to pick up holes or cracks in cartilage and metabolic changes to cartilage and bone, so training movements could be modified or avoided to prevent injury occurring.

The researchers will also design a range of targeted training programmes aimed at reducing the incidence of injuries in professional footballers – a concept known in the sports medicine world as ‘pre-habilitation’. This will involve developing ways of improving training and warm-ups to reduce the incidence of injuries such as pulled muscles and tendons, to ensure that players use their muscles correctly and don’t overload their joints during matches and in training. They hope their research will enhance current FIFA (F-Marc: Football for health) and 11-plus guidelines on warming-up.

Rickie Lambert, Southampton FC striker, who has experienced hip pain throughout his lengthy career but has managed it successfully through exercise, said:


“Hip pain is one of the most common injuries amongst footballers, and lots of players have to retire early if they don’t get the correct treatment. I’ve been very lucky at my club; I’ve got certain exercises I do that have helped me and improve the problems I’ve had.


“Making sure young footballer get the right treatment in their teens is massively important and will improve their chances of succeeding in the game. If these problems can be picked up early by automatic testing, the better for everyone. On behalf of all professional footballers I would like to show my support for the new centre’s research.”


Gary Lewin, the current permanent first-team physiotherapist for the England national football team added:

“Physiotherapists recommend regular physical activity to maintain good general health.  It is therefore encouraging to see this investment in research to better understand the nature and impact of common sporting injuries. The learning from this work will help people exercise safely and keep active.”

Other activities being investigated in the research include rugby, Olympic sports, horse racing and athletics.

The Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis has the backing of leading sports organisations including the International Olympic Committee, Rugby Football Union, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, UK Athletics and the FA and Professional Footballers Association.

The centre is a consortium of seven universities led by the Nottingham University Hospitals and The Universities of Oxford and Nottingham, and involving the Universities of Southampton, Bath, Loughborough, Leeds and University College London.

For more information about looking after your joints when exercising visit If you are interested in taking part in the research contact Centre administrators or


Editor’s notes:

  • There are two types of joint injury connected with sport and exercise – traumatic sports injuries associated with contact or collision sports such as rugby or football (eg joint sprain or instability), or overuse injuries associated with non-contact sports such as running or rowing (eg stress fracture).
  • Knee injuries are common and are estimated to account for between 15-50 per cent of all sports injuries. Females have been found to have a higher risk of knee injury when participating in some sports. One study has found that they are most common when participating in football (35 per cent) and skiing (26 per cent).

(Majewski M, Susanne H, Klaus S. Epidemiology of athletic knee injuries: a 10 year study. Knee 2006; 13:184-188)

  • The centre also aims to identify and train researchers specialising in the field of sport and osteoarthritis research. At present these two areas are quite distinct.
  • Arthritis Research UK is the biggest funder in the UK of research into the cause, treatment and cure of all forms of arthritis. The charity’s research aims to develop the best prevention and treatment for arthritis in the world.

For further information, interviews or endorsement quotes contact

Jane Tadman, / 01246 541107

Krystyna La Roche, / 020 7307 2227


[1] Survey of 3,000 members of the public who took the Arthritis Research UK ‘Taking the pain out of sport’ survey in 2011.