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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Florida: Retired NFL Players’ Thoughts About Pain May Be More Significant Than the Pain Itself

National Football League (NFL) retirees who worry excessively about their pain or believe it will never get better, also known as pain catastrophizing, are more likely to have moderate to severe depressive symptoms and poor physical and mental health-related quality of life, according to a University of Florida study.

Since more than 90 percent of retired NFL players report pain due to muscle overuse and musculoskeletal injuries and head trauma accumulated over an athletic career, coping with chronic pain is no small matter for this group. Yet, the UF researchers found that retirees’ thoughts about their pain may actually have a bigger impact on their lives than the intensity of the pain.

“This study shows that how NFL retirees think about their physical pain may be more salient in explaining mood symptoms and quality of life than the intensity of the pain itself,” said the study’s lead author, Mr. Zachary Mannes, a doctoral student in clinical psychology in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions.

The UF study is the first to examine former players’ thoughts and moods in relation to their health. While the effects of concussions on NFL retirees’ health has received considerable attention and study, surprisingly, concussions weren’t associated with depressive symptoms in the UF study.

“This result is contrary to much of the published literature that shows a significant relationship between concussions and depression such that the more concussions an NFL athlete experiences during their career, the higher the likelihood of reporting depression in retirement,” Mr. Mannes said. “We did not find this, as pain catastrophizing was the only significant predictor of moderate to severe depressive symptoms.”

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