The high-water mark for steroid use occurred in the 1980s, when about one in every five players, 20.3 percent, said they had tried the drugs. Use declined in the 1990s and beyond to 12.7 percent of players, the researchers reported.
In addition to joint ligament and cartilage injuries, players who took steroids also had higher rates of neck, spine, elbow, knee, ankle, foot and toe injuries than did those who did not take steroids. However, the researchers found no steroid-related muscle, shoulder or tendon injuries.
Guskiewicz speculated that the additional musculoskeletal injuries could have resulted from the increased weight of the muscle mass created by steroids, putting extra stress on joints that then wears them down.
Joint injuries can then lead to osteoarthritis, creating a "snowball effect" in terms of declining health, he said. "Once you develop osteoarthritis, you are more prone to be inactive, making it likely to have cardiac problems, diabetes and depression because of the change in lifestyle," Guskiewicz said. "It's sort of like a snowball rolling downhill and out of control."
Steroid use did seem linked to an increase in the risk of osteoarthritis, depression and alcohol abuse, the study found. And overall, retired players who had used steroids became less physically active.
However, these players also seemed to have lower rates of other diseases such as diabetes and cancer. But the researchers noted that the players surveyed have not reached old age, when those types of problems begin to loom large.
Guskiewicz said he believes that the NFL is doing a better job of preventing steroid use today. "But there are other places and sports where it may not be as monitored and controlled as we would like it to be," he said. "So, even though this was a group
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