The eighth UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Ukraine has provided the latest opportunity for gathering data for the UEFA Injury Study, under the watchful eye of Professor Jan Ekstrand.
The study aims to discover more about injury patterns and risks, to increase the safety of football and to decrease the number of injuries as well as supplying information to UEFA, clubs and national associations throughout Europe. "Teams receive a report with a series of graphs showing, for instance, squad availability – the details of the team in question are highlighted, the rest are anonymous," said Professor Ekstrand. "Imagine the difference between a team which has 94 per cent of its players available and another where one in four players is not because of injury. We try to turn medical aspects into tactical aspects. We then ask teams that have good availability the secret behind their good performances. This is hot stuff among coaches.
"Unfortunately most of the injuries we see at these tournaments are serious," Professor Ekstrand added. "There's no difference between the type of injuries you see in a tournament like this or in the Champions League. Most injuries occur in matches, the majority are contusions from contact. The second most common are strains and they're sprinting or velocity injuries, and that's to do with the speed of the game. They're a typical sprinter's injury – it's more common at élite level due to the speed of the game and also because it's a fatigue injury. When you're tired, you're more easily injured. We don't see too many ligament injuries at U19 level.
"At age-group level the injuries decrease, so U17 matches have a lower injury rate than U19s, which is lower than U21s and so on," said Professor Ekstrand, who co-ordinates a team of five people conducting UEFA's Injury Study. "The main reason for this is that injuries in matches occur mainly in physical collisions – energy equals mass times velocity squared, is the equation. The heavier the players are and the faster they run, the more energy in collisions. That's why we see more injuries in senior football. The most common injuries are in matches, but we also cover training. Those injuries obviously make players unavailable for matches – one of the main reasons players are unavailable for matches is because of injuries suffered in training – so the statistics are very useful for coaches."
With Karolina Kristensson leading the UEFA Injury Study team at last month's UEFA European Women's U19 Championship in Belarus, and next year's UEFA European Futsal Championship also due to be covered, there is an ever-increasing amount of data for Professor Ekstrand and his colleagues to process. Professor Ekstrand, though, believes the full value of the study may only become clear in time. "Five years is too short to see [a change in the type of injuries]," he said. "For example, year on year there has been an increase in injuries at the European U17 Championship, until this year. Looking just at one tournament does not give you the full picture. The aim of this study is to look at individual tournaments but also to build a database to see total trends."
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