University researcher heads global Olympian health study

World Olympians Association launches landmark research project

Date posted

19 April 2018


AN Edinburgh Napier academic is leading a global study into the long-term health of elite athletes.

Dr Debbie Palmer, an associate professor and researcher in sports injury and illness prevention, is fronting the huge project launched today by the World Olympians Association.

The study, which will analyse the long-term health issues of Olympians, was announced in Bangkok and is supported by the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission, the IOC Athletes’ Commission and the IOC Athletes’ Entourage Commission.

The launch was attended by International Ski Federation Secretary General Sarah Lewis and World Rowing Federation President Jean-Christophe Rolland, the first two Olympians to complete the health study.

As part of the World Olympians Association’s strategic priority to support Olympians through life transition, the study will generate new knowledge on the long-term musculoskeletal and overall general health of Olympians and identify the risk factors associated with elite-level sport in this area.

Edinburgh Napier’s Dr Palmer competed in short track speed skating for Great Britain at three Olympic Winter Games and has previously carried out research for the International Olympic Committee as part of the IOC’s Scientific and Medical Research group.

Dr Palmer said: “Elite athletes are known to be exposed to high impact training and competition loads, leading to increased physiological demands that can be associated with a heightened risk of injury. This study seeks to better understand what those risks are and how they can be mitigated.


“By encouraging as many Olympians as possible to participate, we will build a better picture of post-retirement life for those who have competed at the highest levels of sport and hopefully greatly increase the body of knowledge in this area.” 

More than 10,000 Olympians, who no longer compete at an Olympic level, are being targeted to take part in the study, an international collaboration between Edinburgh Napier University; the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Centre; University of Nottingham; Arthritis Research UK, Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis; University of Calgary, University of Alberta; IOC Medical and Scientific Department; and Institute for Sport, Exercise and Health, London

WOA President Joël Bouzou said: “We are proud to launch WOA’s Olympian health study, which will greatly enhance the limited existing knowledge of the long-term health impact on Olympians. Our aim is to use this analysis to inform evidence-based recommendations and best-practice guidelines to benefit Olympians and other elite athletes.” 

Olympians can register their interest in taking part in this research project HERE 

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