With the GAA set to return over the next couple of weeks it will be interesting to see how the injury situation unfolds. The players have been out of a formal training environment over the last 3 months and are now required to compete at match intensity in a matter of weeks with a limited preseason. This is a recipe for a massive increase in the frequency of injury.
We can look back at previous examples with the 2011 NFL Lockout being the obvious choice. This involved a league-wide pay dispute which prevented players from accessing training facilities for 19 weeks which then cut their pre-season from an average 14 weeks to just 17 days. 10 players ruptured their Achilles tendons in the first 12 days of training and the rate of injuries in the first month of competition was double the average observed over an entire season.
What can see from the return of the Bundesliga? The injury rate for the 2019/20 season before lockdown was on average 0.27 per game, whereas in the first week back post-lockdown the injury rate was 0.88 injuries per game. This is greater than a 200% increase in the rate of injuries.
The AFL have tried mitigating injury risk by introducing shorter quarters from 20 minutes to 16 minutes. This is an effort to reduce overall player running volume but has actually potentially increased the amount of relative high speed running and sprint distances. This may partly explain why the injury rate has increased weekly since the restart with 14 muscle injuries in the last 18 games, including 11 hamstring strains. In comparison, there were only 3 hamstring injuries in the same time-frame last season.
A big problem when teams have little time to prepare is attempting to make up for lost time by smashing players with too much training load after a period of substantially reduced training load, as is the case with the lockdown. This rapid load slingshot is an easy trap to fall into.
So what can we do to reduce the risk of injury?
Hopefully, players will have maintained some form of fitness over the lockdown doing their own training. The training then needs to be gradual and progressive in nature so as to prepare the athlete’s body for the demands of the game. These demands include acceleration, deceleration, sprinting, change of direction and decision making under pressure. Teams need to resist the urge to do too much too soon in an effort to make up for lost time. It is also a good idea to test baseline physical capacities and monitor training load through tools such as heart rate variability and ratings of perceived exertion. Management teams should make use of their substitutes to help manage fatigue status and help preserve physical output.
League’s around the world are looking to complete this season’s fixtures quickly so as not to impede into next year’s schedule. This, along with a flurry of challenge matches, may increase match frequency and congestion. Even under normal circumstances a congested match schedule increases injury occurrence. With limited preparation time the injury risk only increases. Managers and those in charge of scheduling fixtures should factor this in and look to incorporate “down weeks” into the remainder of the season.
We aren’t out of the woods yet but are lucky that we can turn our attention to sports. It will be interesting to see which teams can manage the inevitable injury situation and how this will influence the outcome of the upcoming championships.