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Overuse injuries a major problem in athletics

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Seven out of ten elite athletes suffered an overuse injury during a single season. In more than half of these cases, the injury required more than four weeks of rehabilitation, which in turn resulted in reduced training and competition capacity. These findings are described in a new thesis within sport science.

Andreas Lundberg Zachrisson, in collaboration with the Gothenburg Athletics Club, followed 58 athletes throughout an entire season, enlisting physiotherapists and doctors in the diagnosis of their overuse injuries. Of these 58 athletes, 42 suffered an overuse injury during the season. Some of them suffered several overuse injuries.

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Portrait of Andreas Lundberg Zachrisson.
Andreas Lundberg Zachrisson.

“What surprised us was that overuse injuries are so prevalent. More than half of them were classed as serious and resulted in no or limited training for at least 28 days. Naturally, not being able to fully engage in their training has a negative impact on their athletic performance,” says Lundberg Zachrisson.

Most injuries in the build-up phase

An athletics season is normally split into a build-up phase from October to December, indoor competitions during the winter, a new build-up phase from March to May, and then outdoor competitions during the summer.

“Most injuries were suffered during the build-up phase from October to December. This could be due to the athletes taking a break in September and restarting their training at too high intensity in October instead of increasing it gradually after their lay-off,” says Lundberg Zachrisson.

The number of injuries also increased during the second build-up phase.

“One contributing factor might be the training camps that many attend in March and April. It’s possible that the athletes increase their training volume because they’re at a camp, and this can result in overuse injuries.”

Risk factors for injuries

An overuse injury is an injury that arises gradually, caused by too much strain over an extended period without sufficient recovery time. Acute injuries and recurring injuries among the athletes were not included in the study.

Ninety per cent of the overuse injuries were seen in the hips, thighs, feet and lower legs. The reasons were individual and varied greatly. In order to examine the correlation between risk factors and overuse injuries, all the athletes underwent a physical exam at the beginning of the study wherein muscle flexibility and range of movement around the joints were measured. Gait analysis and static strength tests were also conducted.

“In the case of several of the risk factors, there was a stronger correlation to overuse injury if the injuries were grouped together, such as thigh and hip injuries. However, larger studies are required, studies that also include training form and volume, to find out when the risk of injury increases.”

Dissertation on Friday 26 February

Andreas Lundberg Zachrisson is defending his thesis Overuse injuries in Swedish elite athletics – Incidence, occurrence, athlete availability, and risk factors on Friday 26 February 2021.