Preventing injury in football players is the holy grail. In the first game of the season last weekend Arsenal lost both Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi to non contact injuries which should, in theory, be avoidable.
The University of Birmingham and Southhampton Football Club have just released a study which uses GPS technology in an attempt to measure a player’s risk of injury according to how how far and fast they have been running over a specific period of time.
They found the following:
High level of acceleration over a three-week training period was the strongest indicator of overall and non-contact injury risk.
High total distance (in excess of 112km) covered over a four-week period and high weekly total loads significantly increased the risk of overall and non-contact injuries.
Moderate-to-high levels of distance covered at high speed resulted in higher overall and non-contact injury incidence respectively.
Very high weekly total loads and intense levels of short bursts of speed were significantly related to a higher risk of contact injury.
So high levels of acceleration, high total distance, high speed over distance and a combination of all three produced the highest risk of injury in the young players they were studying.
What’s going on?
The sole purpose of training is to create a stimulus which then results in an adaptation. Training for football is no different. Injury occurs when that stimulus is too great. This can happen in one session, or may be the result of several sessions without enough time given in between to allow for an adaptation to occur.
What all the scenarios above have in common is that they place a large amount of stress on the muscular system. In other words the stimulus is very high.
The key therefore is to know exactly where the tolerance level of each individual player is and guide the training through that sweet spot. This is not easy.
The University of Birmingham study is an attempt to do that based on data collected from players of similar age and ability. I’m sure they would be the first to admit however that this doesn’t account for individual differences. What may be too much for one player may not be an adequate stimulus for another.
So how can you predict and therefore prevent injury on an individual basis? Was there any way of knowing that Aaron Ramsey was going to pull his hamstring before the game at the weekend?
I remember a conversation with the Chelsea Physiotherapist Jon Fearn a couple of years ago. After a spate of adductor pulls they had found that a range of motion limit in hip abduction was an indication that a player should rest. After studiously monitoring that particular range of motion and resting players when they saw it limited, their injury rates fell as a result.
Limits in range of motion give an indication that some muscles have been overloaded and are therefore unable to contribute effectively. This apparent tightness in the muscular system is the first indication that a player has breached their limits and may be susceptible to injury.
The focus of Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) is to monitor range of motion throughout the body on a regular basis. This gives a very clear indication of whether an athlete is adapting to their training load or whether the stimulus is too great and causing a breakdown in the capabilities of their muscular system.
Where these limits are noted MAT also provides the practical tools to restore the ability of those overloaded muscles to contract and therefore restore range of motion. This not only reduces the athlete’s risk of injury but also improves their performance. Something that Arsenal would have most likely benefited from at the weekend.