A key area of UEFA's co-operation with Europe's top football clubs is the UEFA injury study – a project which is continually bearing fruit in helping to develop preventative measures.
The project is led by Professor Jan Ekstrand, second vice-chairman of the UEFA Medical Committee, and has been running in the UEFA Champions League for eight seasons, as well as now in almost all youth competitions.
Monitored by the UEFA Medical Committee, the study was launched in 2001 upon the initiative of FIFA, UEFA and the other continental confederations – with a view to learning more about injury patterns and risks, increase the safety of football and decrease the number of injuries.
Study and statistics
UEFA's ongoing injury study results were again on the agenda at the latest meeting of the UEFA Medical Committee, and Ekstrand gave a comprehensive insight into the study and its statistics to club doctors at last week's inaugural UEFA Elite Medical Forum in Nyon. Indeed, the aim of the study is to provide information of mutual benefit not only to European football's governing body, but also to the clubs and national associations throughout Europe. In turn, the clubs also feed vital information back to UEFA to help the study prosper.
"UEFA is the international organisation for those who have football as an occupation, and it is [UEFA's] duty to keep track of occupational hazards. This should be a win-win situation," said Ekstrand. "The gain for UEFA is that we get information about injury risk and injury patterns in professional football," Ekstrand told the forum. "We hope that this is also an advantage for the clubs, because they want to keep players healthy and reduce injuries, and we know that sharing information in an international medical network is one of the most effective ways of preventing injuries."
The forum debated issues such as the factors both on and off the pitch which cause injuries, with training workload cited as an example. A new coach might alter the amount of training, therefore subjecting players to changes in their physical exertion. It was also asked whether frequent flying to matches might also increase the risk of injury to a player. Such factors will continue to be examined as part of the ongoing injury study.
Search for solutions
"We wanted to see the club doctors, because they are the professionals who are 'living' 24 hours with these players," Ekstrand explained. "National-team doctors spend perhaps a few weeks each year with their teams, but club doctors really have interesting questions to put forward in the search for solutions."
The study ascertained that hamstring injuries were the most common ailment at élite level, mostly due to the intensity and speed of the game. In a 25-player squad, for example, ten players on average suffered thigh injuries, seven of which were hamstring ailments. "At amateur level, ankle injuries are still most common," said Ekstrand, "while at professional level, it is muscle injuries – and in particular hamstring injuries. The pace of modern top-level football is such that players suffer this typical sprinter's injury. In addition, doctors know how to prevent (other) injuries, but we still don't know how to prevent hamstring injuries..."
Most of the leading European clubs have joined UEFA's national associations in deriving benefit from the study, and some have been cooperating for long years on it. "In the beginning we only had a few teams," Ekstrand concluded. "Now we are making the study so valuable to clubs that they don't want to be 'out' of it. Some teams have sent us material every month for eight years – they don't do that to be nice to us!"
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