The 2012 Charleston Battery season is underway. I was encouraged to see that there are only a few weeks where the team plays more than one match in any given week. The U.S. Open Cup dates might add to those multi-game weeks. Fortunately there seem to be fewer weekend road trips where the team will play on consecutive nights. I have always been concerned that playing games on back-to-back nights places the players at higher risk for injury.
In the September issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine, Gregory Dupont et al. present a study they performed using 32 professional soccer players who played for one European soccer team. They analyzed the data for this team over two consecutive seasons. They placed players into two groups based on the length of time between games. In one group, they looked at players who had not played a match for six days or more. In the second group, they looked at players who played two matches within four days. The authors hypothesized that match-related physical performance would decrease in the group of players playing two matches within four days. They also speculated that the injury rates in players in this group would be higher.
I think this is a fascinating study, and it confirms what I had previously believed to be true. The authors of this study found an injury rate of 25.6 injuries per 1000 hours of exposure in the group of players who played two matches per week compared to 4.1 injuries per 1000 hours of exposure in the group who had six days or more between matches. Tweet This Statistic. In addition to what looked like a six-fold increase in injuries overall, injuries to the thigh, knee, and ankle all seemed to increase notably in the group who played more than one match per week. Interestingly, match-related physical performance, which was measured by determining total distance, high-intensity distance, sprint distance, and the number of sprints, did not significantly decrease.
I think there are several take-home messages from this study. Obviously playing multiple matches per week puts soccer players at higher risk of injury. Therefore, it seems that having enough players on the roster in order to allow players adequate rest would be beneficial. Working with the governing bodies of various soccer leagues to recommend schedules that provide enough rest between games can be helpful. Unfortunately, team budgets, travel arrangements, and other factors might make playing only one game per week difficult for professional sports teams, and it can be even more difficult for college and high school teams. Injury prevention programs, looser substitution restrictions, and adequate roster size can help decrease injury rates if the schedules cannot be accommodating.
Another interesting recommendation of this study pertains to the recovery procedures implemented by the authors after soccer matches. They advised the players to immediately immerse themselves in an ice bath after matches. They also recommended that the players wear compression clothing for 12 hours after a match. Finally they advised the players to eat and drink large amounts of carbohydrates in the hours after the match. Presumably the ice baths and compression garments help to decrease inflammation and swelling of muscles and joints of the body. Carbohydrate ingestion likely increases muscle glycogen levels and theoretically improves performance. These recommendations might be beneficial not only to soccer players, but also athletes of other sports, whether or not they are competing in one match per week or multiple matches per week.
While this study pertains only to soccer players, and in particular professional soccer players, I think the findings are likely to be applicable to athletes of many sports. I do not know of studies done in a similar fashion on other sports or at other levels such as high school and college, but I expect that the principle remains the same. Adequate rest and injury prevention programs throughout the season are likely to help keep injury rates low and athletes healthy.