By Dr Andrew Ullo (Chiropractor)
Unfortunately, injuries are a part of sports and this is especially true for footballers. As Football is the world’s most popular sport, it’s then no surprise that the rate of injuries is exceptionally high. In particular, muscle injuries are the most common type of injury for footballers, especially hamstrings. These injuries do not just represent a limitation on the athletes’ performance, but they can negatively impact the whole team as a result of the reduced availability of injured players in the team’s tactical planning, and they can also affect the club’s economy. Therefore, preventing muscle injuries is a top objective of the science and medicine support staff of elite teams.
In 2015, Alan McCall and Gregory Dupont, among other experts, summarized the existing preventive exercises in scientific literature, concluding that the most commonly used strategies based on exercising included eccentric and balance/proprioception exercises, although the scientific evidence that supports these strategies was weak and little recommended.
However, since McCall et al. published their work in 2015, research and the interest of professionals in injury prevention has increased, so it is appropriate to update such work. Their new systematic review assesses the effectiveness of strategies based on exercising to prevent muscle injury in elite athletes. They demonstrated that Sprinting and High-Speed Running (HSR) focused exercises were the most effective to prevent muscle injuries. It was then perceived that eccentric exercise as the next most effective. The day to perform sprints and high-speed running or eccentric exercises will depend on the proximity to the previous and following match.
Additionally, concentric and isometric exercises, vertical and horizontal plyometric, coordination exercises, core, and dynamic flexibility, as well as stability exercises were also defined as “partially effective” to prevent muscle injury. However, no agreement was reached regarding the scheduling of training variables, such as the number of sets or repetitions, as it will depend of the context.
Therefore, according to the professionals’ opinion, strategies based on exercising to prevent muscle injury should be mainly focused on sprints, HSR and eccentric exercises, combined in a multidimensional programme together with other types of exercises that have shown some level of effectiveness.
McCall A, Fanchini M, Impellizzeri FM, Pruna R, Dupont G, et al. Exercise-Based Strategies to Prevent Muscle Injury in Elite Footballers: An Expert-Led Delphi Survey of 21 Practitioners Belonging to 18 Teams from the Big-5 European Leagues. Sports Med. 2020; 50:1667-1681.