The days of football teams losing their star strikers to injury could be numbered thanks to Keele University academics.
A ‘squad’ of researchers – including physiotherapists, statisticians, bioengineers and computer scientists – has been investigating risk factors in the sport.
The work has combined traditional methods with statistical models for predicting typical injuries such as hamstring strains, torn knee ligaments and fractures.
Lead author Fraser Philp, programme director for rehabilitation and exercise science, said: “The models can streamline the information that sports practitioners need to collect and provide a rationale for why these factors are important.
“We hope to test this model in other football clubs and ultimately help inform decision-making in sports and exercise medicine teams, reducing the injury burden on footballers.”
The researchers delved into injury data from a football team playing in the British Universities and College Sports League. It covered a whole season and 24 male players.
Between them, they stacked up 44 separate injuries, although the details have not been revealed.
Twenty-seven of the incidents happened during matches. But the two worst injuries were suffered during training sessions and the effects lasted for at least 28 days.
The Keele study identified a number of predictors, including weight, training, artificial turf, total time of match play, a ‘yo-yo’ fitness score and previous injury.
Surface type, such as a 3G pitch, was found to have ‘the largest positive effect on injury’, although this was linked to how much time the player spent on the pitch.
The research, published in the British Medical Open Sports and Exercise Medicine Journal, states: “It is expected increased participation, facilitated by increased cardiovascular capacity, increases the risk of injury.
“Therefore, practitioners wishing to mitigate injury risk may consider the frequency and duration of activity on different surface types, alongside the capacity of the player.”
Previous research has also shown players with a ‘lower lean mass’ are at greater risk of hamstring injuries, although the Keele study didn’t find consistent evidence of this.
“It may be hypothesised that increased body fat, up to a point, has a protective effect against injury,” the report adds.
They were more likely to get hurt during football games than training, possibly due to the ‘demands of a match being higher’.
But Dr Philp said there is ‘no crystal ball’ as injuries in football have lots of different causes.
He believes statistical models could play an important role in decisions about training and playing.
It would be in addition to club medicals, which often involve heart scans, blood and fitness tests that are not that effective in predicting injuries.