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Athletics injuries strike early

Athletics at an elite level entail major injury risks with most injuries occurring during training. Two-thirds of participants in a comprehensive study reported at least one injury over the period of one year, and young athletes were hit almost as frequently as older ones.

“The most alarming part is that the young athletes suffered almost as many injuries as the adults:

  • 3.51 injuries per 1,000 hours training or competition for younger athletes
  • 3.69 injuries per 1,000 hours training or competition for adults

Jenny Jacobsson, doktorand och sjukgymnast

Moreover, if we look at 2011’s results almost 40% of the youngsters suffered a long-term injury which kept them out for at least three weeks,” says Jenny Jacobsson, physiotherapist and postgraduate student at Linköping University.

Seven out of ten injuries were leg and feet injuries and most can be connected to overloading.  One of the biggest risk factors is that one previous long term injury increases the risk of a fresh one, as shown in the results of the research project, now being reviewed in Jacobsson’s doctoral thesis.

Since 1998, she has travelled to meets with the Swedish Athletics Association, firstly with cross-country runners, then with seniors in track and field; she also took part in training camps.

In her project she studied prevalence; the number of injuries during a one-year period from March 2008 to March 2009, and incidence; new injuries received between March 2009 and March 2010.

Using questionnaires and a diary developed for online use, she followed the injury profile between two groups of athletes in all disciplines.  All the top ten adults during 2008 were invited to one group, and the top ten 16-year-olds that year to another. In total, 639 athletes were invited; 321 accepted the invitation.

68% reported at least one injury during the 52 weeks from March 2009 to March 2010. 42% suffered more than one injury and 24% more than two.

Most injuries take place during training.

“Training for athletics is very intensive. Athletes are subject to more maximum loads than in other sports. The key is to train only as much as the individual athlete can manage. One thing we saw in our study was that the number of training hours does not affect the injury pattern, but that intensity does.

One interesting finding is that those with the greatest load training had the greatest risk of injury,” says Jacobsson. One conclusion is that trainers need more knowledge of the connection between training and risk of injury. There is also a need for greater medical follow-up of injuries and their long-term effects.

Towards systematic prevention of athletic injuries: Use of clinical epidemiology for evidence-based injury prevention, Linköping University Medical Dissertations 1308. Defence of the thesis took place October 9th at 1:00 PM in Torben Grut-salen, Stockholm Stadium, Lidingövägen, Stockholm. Faculty examiner was Professor Willem van Mechelen, Amsterdam.

Jenny Jacobsson +46 702 811 106


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Jenny Jacobsson's Research

Text: Åke Hjelm


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Last updated: 2012-12-10