Injury prevention: the new performance enhancing?

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Many people think of injury prevention as a purely medical endeavor: a method for keeping patients, athletes and teams healthy.

And whilst this is certainly part of it, there are many other important aspects to consider! For example, if a medical team can keep your athletes on the field, injury-free, that gives you a huge performance advantage. In English Professional Football, the average (SD) number of days absent for each injury was 24.2 (40.2), with 78% of the injuries leading to a minimum of one competitive match being missed. From a financial standpoint – it makes a lot of sense as well – with reports that injuries cost the game at least 40 million pounds per year!

There are many ways injury prevention can be achieved. At its most basic, good strength and fitness holds many in good stead. However, there are sports-specific interventions that have been validated to prevent injury, for example the Nordic Hamstring exercise program. Introduced in 2001, it has been shown to decrease the risk of Hamstring injury by 50% in football.

Unfortunately, uptake of this relatively simple program has been poor: of 50 professional football teams surveyed (32 from the UEFA Champions League, 19 from Tippeligaen), only 16 (10.7%) completed the programme in full (Bahr, Thor and Ekstrand, 2015). This is surprising given the potential upsides, to the clubs, their players and of course their paying fans.

These benefits can be applied on an individual level as well. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to visit the Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, affiliated with Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard group, which not only conducts cutting-edge research and educates health professionals in this sphere, but also provides individualised injury prevention services.

For example,  3D kinematic analysis is offered for golfers and pitchers to identify suboptimal biomechanics. Poor biomechanics not only contributes to injuries, but also to technique! Combined with a  comprehensive musculoskeletal screen, the clinicians and researchers here aim to not only keep people in the game, but also take it to the next level. Patients leave with preventative strengthening exercises as well as a detailed report for their coach. Other services include prevention of Concussion, ACL tears and Running injuries. What I found inspiring was that these services weren’t just in the research sphere, they were out in public – treating everyone from professional athletes to weekend warriors and their kids!

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that injury prevention isn’t just about safety, that it isn’t just for pro athletes – and maybe, it might be for you!

Would love to hear your thoughts – let me know below or on Twitter at @BMJ_Injury

David Bui

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