A collaborative project between the European Football Association (UEFA) and Linköping University has studied the risk of injury for elite soccer players in Sweden and Denmark in a series of investigations between 2001 and 2005. Martin Hägglund, a doctoral student and physical therapist at the Division of Social Medicine and Public Health Science, has followed the clubs in the Swedish premier league, the Allsvenska, for several seasons. He has also reviewed the risk of injury in the Danish SAS League and the Women’s Allsvenska.
The studies show that the risk of injury among elite soccer players is great: roughly three out of four male players and two out of three female players incur injuries during a season. Pulled hamstring muscles are the most frequent injuries, followed by groin injuries, and sprained knees and ankles. However, contrary to common beliefs, the risk of injury has not increased in the past 20 years. A comparison between the Allsvenska seasons 1982 and 2001 shows that the both risk of injury and the severity of injuries have remained unchanged.
The risk of injury in the Allsvenska League is lower than in neighboring Denmark. Players in the SAS League had more training injuries during the spring season and more serious injuries than their Swedish colleagues. Differences in the structure of the seasons and in training may be a contributing factor.
Among women, the risk of injury is lower than among men, according to a comparison between the Allsvenska and the Women’s Allsvenska season 2005. On the other hand, the risk of suffering a serious injury (absence of more than 4 weeks) is equally large for women and men. The most common serious injury is sprained knees, which account for roughly one third of all absences due to injuries.
A player who suffers an injury runs a greater risk of incurring the same injury the following season. Players in the Allsvenska who had a thigh, groin, or knee injury during the 2001 season were two to three times more likely to suffer the same injury in 2002.
Roughly one injury in five is the result of a relapse within two months of an earlier injury. A probable explanation is that players often make a comeback before they are fully rehabilitated. However, it is possible to prevent many recurrent injuries. A study of twenty 4th division clubs in Östergötland in 2003 shows that the risk of a relapse declined by 75 percent in clubs that followed a program of monitored rehabilitation and regimented return to play.
The dissertation Epidemiology and prevention of football injuries is published by LiU Electronic Press ( http://www.diva-portal.org/liu/abstract.xsql?dbid=8500). It will be publicly defended on Friday, March 30, at 1 p.m. in the Auditorium, Hälsans Hus, Campus US, Linköping.