Lower Limb Injury Prevention in Football

The method of warm up has changed dramatically over the past decade at the top level of sport. Long gone are the days of jogging around the pitch and doing a few static stretches. Modern warm ups involve dynamic movements, ball handling skills and active stretching movements that rehearse the competitive or training activity to come.

The method of warm up has changed dramatically over the past decade at the top level of sport. Long gone are the days of jogging around the pitch and doing a few static stretches. Modern warm ups involve dynamic movements, ball handling skills and active stretching movements that rehearse the competitive or training activity to come.

Soligard and colleagues (2008) investigated the use of effective dynamic warm ups on the prevention of injury in female football players. This routine used exercises that focused on balance, stability, dynamic stabilisation and eccentric hamstring strength. One hundred and twenty five clubs were recruited to participate in the study.

The clubs in the study were either instructed to continue to warm up as usual or to implement the new warm up as instructed by the researchers. The following warm-up routine was developed.

General warm up

  • Slow speed running exercises
  • Active stretching
  • Controlled contacts with a partner

Specific warm up

  • Slalom running between cones
  • Balance and jumping exercises
  • Football specific movements with sudden changes of direction

The goal of the researchers was to improve neuromuscular awareness during football related movements such as running, cutting, jumping, landing and so forth. The researchers encouraged the players and coaches to focus on movement quality, core stability and hip and knee control. Coaches and players were asked to continuously provide feedback to one another so as to encourage correct technique.

The researchers measured the incidence of lower limb injuries (hip, groin, knee, ankle, foot) as their primary measurement of success of the program and on a secondary basis of injuries to other body parts.

The results of the study showed that there was a significance decrease in all injuries in the group that performed the warm up prescribed by the researchers. While the risk of re-injury was lower in the prescribed warm up group it did not reach statistical significance. These results came from the study of almost 50,000 playing and training hours and almost 2000 female football players with an average age of 15.4 years.

The above study is supported by work done by a review article by Myer and colleagues (2008) also on female football players who examined knee injuries for female football players. Female football players have a higher incidence of knee injuries than their male counterparts due to wider hips resulting in greater lower extremity valgus (the angle of the knee bending towards the centre of the body). The differences in male and female injury rates to the knee are only apparent from the onset of puberty. The authors recommended a number of exercises and progression aimed at improving knee stability and lower limb biomechanics.

While this particular study focused on injury prevention in females the same methods applied to all athletes will see decreases in the rates of knee injuries also. In addition to the prevention of injury these exercises will also improve performance through better balance, coordination and hip knee alignment. This should in turn result in improved ball skills, running speed and evasion and interception ability.

In this article we will include pictures of the exercises that were incorporated into the study, however, to ensure effective and safe technique they should only be coached by a qualified strength and conditioning coach.

References

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