Re-injuries are a frequent frustration in professional football. This study from the Football Research Group (and featuring an author from the Aspetar FMCE) has shown an association between the number of training sessions completed before returning to play and re-injury1. It appears that delaying a return to competition, to allow more training, might help reduce the risk of subsequent injury.
The aim of this study was to determine if the number of completed training sessions between return to play and a player’s first competitive match was associated with injury risk in men’s professional football. A total of 303, 637 individual match appearances and 4,805 first match appearances after return to play were included in the analysis. Only injuries classified as being moderate to severe (≥8 days absence) were considered. Injuries were further classified as being either being muscle injuries or non-muscle injuries. Rate ratios (RRs) were used to compare injury rates in the first match appearances with the average seasonal match injury rate. Odds ratios (ORs) were then used to analyse associations between the number of completed training sessions and general (all injuries), muscle, and non-muscle injury odds.
The main finding of this study was that the injury rate during the first match following injury was 46.9 injuries/1000 match hours, which was almost double compared with the season average. This elevated injury rate was mainly due to an increased risk of muscle injuries. These were 158% higher than the average rate in the total cohort. The other main finding was that the odds of sustaining an injury dropped 7% with each training session before the first match. The odds of sustaining a muscle injury were reduced by 13% but there was no significant association between the number of training sessions and non-muscle injuries.
These results of this study have some possible practical implications and may help clinicians determine when a player is ready to ready to return to competition. The study shows that the risk of a muscle re-injury was only marginally higher than the baseline risk when players had completed at least six training sessions between their return to play and their first match appearance. Moreover, when players had completed less than four training sessions before their first match, the muscle injury risk was approximately three-fold higher compared with the general muscle injury risk. These benchmarks could be used to help clinicians, coaches and players manage a successful return to competition.
1Bengtsson H, Ekstrand J, Waldén M, et al Few training sessions between return to play and first match appearance are associated with an increased propensity for injury: a prospective cohort study of male professional football players during 16 consecutive seasons British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 29 August 2019. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-100655