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Injury prevention programmes in (team) sports

...are sports-specific exercises better?

  • Sports-specific injury prevention enhances sports performance
  • Two results for the price of one: increased performance and reduced number of injuries
  • Three categories: ‘sports-specific’, ‘general’ and ‘mixed’ programmes

Athletes who perform sports-specific exercises in order to prevent injuries, show better test scores on strength, explosive power, accelerating and decelerating, and agility compared to athletes who performed general exercises such as squats, bench press and planking exercises in an injury prevention programme. This is concluded by an international research team after executing a systematic review of the literature in which they analysed 28 injury prevention programmes.

Sports-specific

The sports-specific prevention programmes showed superior scores on outcome measures improving balance, power, strength, endurance and velocity/ agility. Consequently, five out of six sports-specific programmes  were effective in improving power: in those studies – the power of athletes in the intervention group increased more than in the power of athletes in the control group. In six out of eight programmes, athletes in the intervention groups increased their strength more than athletes in the control groups. In eight out of thirteen sports-specific injury prevention programmes, velocity and agility increased more in athletes in the intervention groups compared to control groups. Table 1 lists for each outcome measure the number of injury prevention programmes that were effective. Below that, the mean effectiveness is displayed in terms of percentages.

Study quality 

The overall quality of the included studies was moderate. The authors mention several points of attention which may have had an influence on the results. As such, therapy compliance of the athletes was not included in the analysis, nor was timing in the competitive season or the necessary facilities. It is also unclear whether a dose-response-relation exists: training frequency and duration are probably important for programmeme effectiveness, but the researchers were unable to determine this parameters based on the analysis. Nevertheless, they do recommend that professional athletes - who have more time to train - should train longer than half an hour in the off-season period to be able to achieve performance-enhancing effects.

> From: Plummer, PLoS One 14 (2019) e0221346 . All rights reserved to The Author(s). Click here for the online summary. Translation by Brent van Saarloos

Table 1: Number of effective injury prevention programmes and percentages of mean effectiveness
Number of effective injury prevention programmes and percentages of mean effectiveness

Expert opinion by Dennis van Poppel

The current review attempts to establish the effectiveness of injury prevention programmes on sports-performance. An impossible comparison, which kicks in an open door. 

Regarding injury prevention, a lot is still unknown. In many sports, the exact risk factors leading to injuries are poorly understood. Therefore, by definition it becomes nearly impossible to establish a substantiated injury prevention programme. Often, these programmes are rather based on assumptions and pretty sales pitches than on facts. 

In this study, performance instead of injury has been chosen as an outcome measure for these programmes. Studies of moderate quality were included, showing obvious results. programmes including sports-specific exercises that based on the type of sport, score significantly better in terms of power, strength, velocity and agility. This is not very surprising: you will improve on what you train. 

The fact that planking, squatting, non-specific endurance training et cetera have little effect on agility can be expected. As for endurance training, no significant differences were found. Probably because this is a generic ability? With regard to balance, the mixed category even scores better, but perhaps this has something to do with the testing procedure (SEBT)?

Or, stated differently: it is recommended for colleagues in clinical practice to train sports-specific abilities instead of using an injury prevention programme, because there is no such thing as ‘two results for the price of one’. Or should we, like the United States, try to collaborate more with performance trainers as an addition to physiotherapy?

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