An FA study has concluded that footballers are at a far greater risk of lower leg injuries, especially Achilles injuries, during preseason...
As part of a wide-ranging audit of injuries in professional football, conducted over the period of two seasons (July 1997 - May 1999), medical staff at 91 professional clubs submitted detailed injury questionnaires together with weekly injury status reports on a total of 2376 players.
The study, published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that 17% (a total of 1025) of the injuries recorded were sustained in preseason, resulting in an average absence of 22.3 days.
The definition of a recordable injury was specified as an injury which prevented a player from participating in training or competition for more than 48 hours.
The study also found that younger players (17-25) were more likely to sustain these injuries than older players (26-35+), and hypothesised that more experienced players may be better able to cope with variations of training intensity at various stages of the year.
While the data revealed that numbers of overuse, tendon-related, "slight" and minor" injuries were proportionately slightly higher than during the season, the percentage of lower leg injuries was significantly higher, with 33% of all Achilles-related injuries occurring in preseason.
In addition, a significantly higher percentage of non-contact injuries were recorded in preseason than during the season itself, presumably due to the large amount of running-based training in preseason.
Suggested reasons for the disproportionate figures, and the relatively high number of injuries incurred in the early stages of the season, include hard playing surfaces, high training intensity, sudden changes in training intensity of exercise, and short preseason preparation.
With injuries during an average season estimated at costing professional clubs in England in excess of £75 million, with 10% of squads unavailable at any one time, the study calls for a risk management approach to the prevention of such injuries, an integrated attitude towards training between coaching playing and medical staff, and an analysis of preseason and closed season training programmes.
Among the possible solutions proposed are the use of running shoes instead of boots for pre season running drills, other forms of conditioning such as aquatic training, focus on proper hydration and nutrition, and specific training for younger players.
FA Head of Medicine and Sports Science Alan Hodson said: "This study is part of The FA's comprehensive and wide-ranging medical research programme. Hopefully the findings will allow players, coaches and medical staff at all levels of the game to take steps to reduce the number of injuries sustained in both preseason and in season."