Football referees should also benefit from a multi-disciplinary medical staff, including sports physicians, physical therapists, sports scientists, nutritionists and massage therapists. Every physical problem and illness should be promptly treated in order to optimise performance, avoid recurrence, and maximise the benefits of prevention.
Dr Mario Bizzini
Research Associate, Sports Physiotherapist
Injury type and location
Research has shown that non-contact injuries (with a slightly lower incidence than in players) and overuse injuries (with an estimated higher prevalence than in players) are of concern among referees. The most common injuries are hamstring strains, calf strains and ankle sprains. The most frequent locations of musculoskeletal complaints (overuse injuries) are the lower back, the hamstring, and the gastrocnemius-Achilles tendon complex. These findings were similar among referees at all levels of performance and for both genders.3-6
Although studies have not shown any statistical difference between elite referees and assistant referees with regard to injury type or location, some trends are noticeable. For example, Achilles tendinopathy appears to be more common amongst referees, which is likely due to the greater volume of running required, while adductor-related problems appear to be more common amongst assistant referees, which also reflects the style of running they are required to complete.
A careful monitoring of training and match loads along with the implementation of injury prevention programmes can help to minimise acute and chronic injuries in referees during their careers.
Male v. female referees
Compared to their female counterparts, male referees participating in FIFA competitions are older (41 as opposed to 35 years) and have a longer career. Yet, while more female officials suffer musculoskeletal complaints during their career, the types and locations of injury are similar in each group. Women are also more likely to be injured during a World Cup competition than their male counterparts. The injury rate for officials is substantially less than the injury rate for players .3,4
Elite v. amateur referees
Compared to amateur referees, elite referees and assistant referees appear more likely to be injured during the course of their careers. Elite referees are also more likely to be injured during training and less likely to be injured during competitive matches. Elite referees are also more likely to report musculoskeletal complaints in general .5,6