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Football medicine in focus in Stockholm

Sports science, backroom teams, referees and women's football – all feature in the latest edition of Medicine Matters as it reviews the recent UEFA Medical Symposium.

Dr Michel D'Hooghe was a keynote speaker at the symposium
Dr Michel D'Hooghe was a keynote speaker at the symposium ©Sportsfile

The latest edition of the official UEFA publication Medicine Matters takes its inspiration from Stockholm, where doctors from UEFA's member associations recently joined with colleagues from top European clubs to show up the broad range of activities and concerns encapsulated in the term football medicine.

In his editorial column, Dr Michel D'Hooghe, chairman of the UEFA Medical Committee, offers a glowing review of the fifth UEFA Medical Symposium in the Swedish capital. Dr D'Hooghe stresses the football-specific nature of February's gathering – emphasising how the wide variety of topics covered by the conference related directly to football, as opposed to the wider field of sports medicine. Hence the focus of the presentations and discussions was exclusively on problems affecting the football medicine community.

The varied agenda of the Stockholm convention is likened to a Scandinavian-style buffet in a later article in this issue of Medicine Matters – the piece 'Swedish smorgasbord' picks the tastiest morsels out of a busy menu, such as anti-doping, a referee's responsibility to protect players' health, the role of the team doctor and the occurrence of stress fractures.

The symposium was also notable, Dr D'Hooghe adds, for the "fantastic collegiate atmosphere" nurtured by its organisers UEFA and the Swedish Football Association (SvFF), which encouraged "listening, discussing and learning". Certainly, the UEFA Medical Committee could not have wished for a more appropriate setting for its first meeting since it was restructured for the 2009-11 period – which took place alongside the symposium.

Dr Paul Balsom, one of the speakers in Stockholm, mines his experience as both SvFF performance manager and head of sports science at English club Leicester City FC, to answer the question: Is science making a difference in modern football? In Dr Balsom's article, co-authored by Gary Phillips, the English Football Association's (FA) head of exercise science, he explains how the medical and sports science practitioners now established at professional clubs are helping their employers respond to the increased physical demands of the modern game.

The support staff behind a football team take a crucial role in ensuring the players are technically, tactically, mentally and physically prepared to cope with the demands of elite sport. The authors cite the example of Sir Alex Ferguson's backroom staff at Manchester United FC which incorporates five physiotherapists, a doctor, an optometrist, a podiatrist, a strength coach, three fitness coaches, two video analysts and two assistant coaches.

Referees also have a part to play in both safeguarding the health of footballers and contributing to the quality of medical care administered to them when they are injured. That is the opinion put forward by Mike Healy, the FA's head of medical education, in an article titled 'Medical staff and referees: Teaming up to care for the players'.

The writer illustrates just how vigilant a match official must be about this aspect of the game – starting with their pre-match briefing with medical staff, referees are constantly having to discriminate between serious and non-serious injuries, and be aware of best practices in responding to serious injuries. Match officials are responsible, therefore, for supervising the correct on-field management, on-field treatment and removal of injured players.

Medicine Matters also reveals how the preventive strategies for reducing the incidence of injuries will differ for female players, as it casts a medical eye over the growth sport of women's football. UEFA's injury research project has pinpointed contrasts between the pattern of injuries sustained by men and women, as well as by female players of different age groups.

The report 'The Feminine Factor' highlights the need to provide proper and female-specific medical care for women's football, using the findings of UEFA's data collection and the German Football Association (DFB)'s own detailed analysis in this area.

Medicine Matters is available in English, French and German.