In “past, present, future”, we ask clinical or academic experts to reflect on selected Sports & Exercise Medicine topics. Today Caroline Bolling on Qualitative Research in Sports & Exercise Medicine.




Tell us more about yourself.

I am a Brazilian sports physiotherapist, a clinician, and a researcher. I’ve worked for more than 10 years with elite athletes in National and international competitions. After that, I ran away with the circus and was a Head Therapist at Cirque the Soleil. As a clinician, I always believed that we needed to better understand the athletes’ perspectives and recognize the impact of the high-performance context to prevent injuries. As a researcher, my focus is to make the athletes voice part of the evidence by applying qualitative methods.


What was hip and happening 10 years ago?

I am sure it was not qualitative research. Not in SEM. Qualitative methods were undervalued and rarely published. However, sports injury prevention was a promising topic. We were getting exciting results from RCTs. These studies showcase many efficacious interventions, focusing on specific injuries (i.e. ACL) or joints (i.e. ankle). But some studies were showing that having a program wouldn’t solve the problem, not without athletes’ and coaches’ adherence. The quantitative “traditional” SEM methods could count how many athletes were using the programs and how many times they use them. It took us a few years to really ask why they use it or not.


What are we doing now?

I wouldn’t imagine that I would ever say that, but we are (finally) doing qualitative research! In the last years, the number of papers has increased, and so has the attention and the given value for qualitative findings. There is a plea for listening to athletes’ voices and understanding the perspectives of the insiders. We also move from a very positivistic and reductionist approach to accepting the complexity of sports injury, which means we need multiple methods and approaches to deal with these complex problems. We used to see sports injuries as black and white, now with different perspectives, we see them in colours. Qualitative research is still underrepresented in SEM, but recent papers have shown clinical relevance and how people’s perceptions can broaden our view regarding sports injuries. And the journals are also more receptive to this type of study approach, like BOSEM 😉


Where do you think we will be 10 years from now?

I truly believe we will have multiple approaches, not just qualitative research but also different methods, to work together to understand the complexity of sports injuries. Qualitative methods will also be part of the curriculum of the graduation and post-graduation programs. New researchers need to be exposed and introduced to qualitative research to be able to develop it further. Like any complex problem, sports injuries will not be the same, and our field will evolve and follow the dynamic nature of our problem. And yes, no doubt qualitative research will be there to picture the beauty of the different perspectives and add more “colours” and nuances to our research field.

Would you like to learn more on this topic? Here is a selection of Qualitative Studies published in our journal.
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