The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on the world of sports and sports related injuries. With leagues and tournaments suspended or postponed, teams have had to grapple with unexpected disruptions to their training regimens and match schedules.
As a result, players have been left struggling to maintain their fitness levels, which could lead to an increased risk of injury and lengthy times away from the football field.
Injury is always a risk in football, but the lack of regular training and matches could make it more difficult for players to prevent or manage common football injuries. With fewer opportunities to practice proper technique and warm up correctly before games, some may be forced to take part in high-intensity match play while they are not fully prepared, potentially leading to an increased risk of muscle tears, ligament sprains and other injuries.
The Physiotherapy team is essential in ensuring players make a safe return to play.
The Football Injury Landscape Pre-Pandemic
Statistics on professional football injury rates between 2010-2019 show that there were an average of 4.4 injuries per match in the top five European leagues during this period. The majority of these injuries (81%) were musculoskeletal in nature, with muscle strains (43%) being the most common type, followed by ligament sprains (24%) and bone fractures (14%). On average, there were also over three times more injuries sustained in matches than during training sessions.
Current and Recent Injury Trends in Football Post-Covid
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the football world has been significant, and it is still too early to quantify its full impact on players’ health. However, recent injury reports have shown an alarming trend in terms of increased rates of injuries among professional footballers since play resumed.
Some of the Statistics:
In Germany’s Bundesliga, there was an almost 60% increase in the average number of common football injuries from mid-May to late July 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
In Serie A, there has been a marked increase in lower limb and muscular injuries (41%) since play resumed after the pandemic break. This was primarily hamstring strain and groin strain.
Similarly, in La Liga there have been reports of a 10% increase in injuries since play resumed. These figures suggest that the lack of regular training and matches during the pandemic has had an impact on players’ health, leading to an increased risk of injury when play resumes.
Potential Reasons for Increased Injury Rates Following Covid
Reduced Training Time before they Play Football
The return to play following the coronavirus pandemic has been a gradual process, with players returning to training and matches in stages. This reduced time for preparation is likely one of the main factors contributing to increased sports related injuries since play resumed.
With limited time for warm-up drills and conditioning, some players may not be as fully prepared as they would usually be for a match. This could lead to an increased risk of injury, especially in those areas of the body which are not accustomed to the high-intensity demands of football (e.g., knee and ankle ligaments – leading to a sprained ankle or another lower leg injury.).
Good communication between the team coach, the physiotherapist and the strength & conditioning coaches is essential to establish a safe return to play.
In addition to reduced training time, the psychological impact of the coronavirus pandemic could also be a factor in increased injury rates since play resumed.
Stress, anxiety and depression have been reported more frequently among professional footballers since the pandemic began, with some players struggling to cope with the disruption to their normal routine.
The psychological toll of the pandemic has been linked to a decrease in performance levels, as well as an increased risk of injury due to a lack of focus and concentration. For example, players may be more prone to making mistakes on the pitch (e.g., misjudging tackles), which could lead to a higher rate of sports injuries.
The tissue overload principle states that an increase in load (e.g., training intensity and duration, match play) beyond what the body is accustomed to can lead to an increased risk of injury.
This applies to footballers as they are required to perform at high levels over a long period of time with limited rest periods between matches and training sessions.
As footballers returned to play after the coronavirus pandemic, they may have had limited time for preparation and conditioning. This can lead to an increased load on their muscles, tendons and ligaments which are not accustomed to this level of intensity. This can then lead to a higher risk of sports injuries due to tissue overload.
Preventing Football Injuries Post-Covid
Proper Pre-Season Conditioning
It is important for footballers to get back into full training as soon as possible after the pandemic break, in order to ensure that they are well prepared for the upcoming season.
This should include a period of pre-season conditioning which focuses on building strength and endurance, as well as preparing the body for the specific demands of football. This is the most important way players can prevent injuries before returning to play.
Adequate Warmup and Cool Down Sessions
It is also important for footballers to ensure that they properly warm up and cool down before and after all training sessions and matches. This will help to reduce the risk of injury by gradually increasing or decreasing the intensity of exercise, as well as allowing players to properly stretch out their muscles. Common injuries, such a calf strain, can easily be prevented by a stringent warm up.
Utilizing Recovery Techniques such as Massage & Stretching
Recovery techniques such as massage and stretching can also help to reduce the risk of injury. Massage helps to promote relaxation, reduce muscle tension and improve flexibility, while stretching increases range of motion and prepares the body for activity.
Physiotherapy treatment can help accelerate the healing process of sore muscles and the physiotherapist may liaise with the conditioning team to devise a specific stretching program to maximise recovery.
Adequate Sleep & Nutrition
Finally, it is important for footballers to ensure that they are getting adequate sleep and nutrition. A well-rested body is better able to cope with the demands of football, while proper nutrition can help to ensure that players have enough energy for training and matches.
Maintaining a Positive Mental Attitude Toward the Game
In addition to physical preparation, it is also important for footballers to maintain a positive mental attitude towards the game. This can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety which may lead to increased injury risk.
Players should focus on the positives of playing football, set achievable goals and stay committed to their training regime in order to ensure that they remain mentally and physically healthy.
Monitoring Player Health Through Vigilant Screening Programs
It is also important for football clubs to have a vigilant screening program in place to monitor the health and readiness of players. This is usually managed by the Physiotherapy team.
It includes regular testing for COVID-19, as well as assessing physical and mental fitness levels. The aim of this monitoring should be to identify any potential areas of concern which may lead to an increased risk of injury during matches or training sessions.
Stringent injury screening data can help prevent big injuries such as ankle joint injury or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, which keep players out of action for lengthy periods of time. The Physiotherapist working with the players will use the data to devise specific treatment plans.
Implementing Safe and Effective Strength & Conditioning Programs
In order to reduce the risk of injury in football post-Covid, team coaches, the physiotherapist and strength & conditioning experts should work together to create safe and effective individualised strength & conditioning programs for each player.
This should include a combination of mobility drills, dynamic exercises, aerobic capacity training, and other specific skills that address any imbalances or weaknesses in a player’s body. The aim should be to enhance the player’s performance and reduce the risk of injury while also ensuring that they are able to maintain their fitness over long periods of time.
Additionally, the use of technology such as GPS tracking systems can help coaches monitor a player’s training load, providing valuable insights into fatigue levels and allowing for adjustments to be made if necessary.
What was the impact of COVID-19 on Footballers?
The physical and mental health of professional footballers has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with many players experiencing a disruption to their normal routine.
Football is such a high energy sport. It is therefore important for all footballers to ensure that they are properly conditioned before returning to play after the pandemic break in order to reduce the risk of injury. This can be done through proper pre-season conditioning, adequate warmup and cool down sessions, utilizing recovery techniques such as massage and stretching with the physiotherapy team, getting adequate sleep and nutrition, and maintaining a positive mental attitude towards the game.
A Physiotherapist plays an important role here in the assessment, management and treatment of players returning after a lengthy break.
Following these guidelines will help footballers to safely return to peak performance levels after quarantine periods.