As the 24 countries that make up the finalists for the 2016 European Championships finalise their preparations and gear up for the kick off of the tournament one thing that is notable is the huge reduction in the number of players forced to miss the tournament through injury. Over the years, international tournaments have been consistent in the loss of players due to injury and international managers playing the waiting game to see if players recovered in time to be included in final squads. While there will always be big name players who dominate headlines through missing tournaments and the inevitable serious injuries that are unavoidable in a fast paced contact sport, over the last 20 years we have seen a steady decline in the avoidable and recurring musculoskeletal injuries that blighted so many elite players’ careers.
Playing through the pain
Perhaps the one event that ushered in so much change was the 1998 World Cup Final in France. Ronaldo, the outstanding talent and undoubtedly biggest star at the ’98 finals, suffered a complete breakdown before the final and was omitted from the team sheet. 75 minutes before kick-off the Brazilian’s name was hurriedly returned to the team sheet. Suspicions of sponsor and FIFA pressure have long been discussed, but whatever the truth behind the decision, Ronaldo was largely anonymous in the match and the Brazilians went on to lose the final to the French. Rumours began to circulate that Ronaldo, clearly suffering from exhaustion, had been carrying an injury that pushed his already exhausted body and mind past his limits, culminating in the striker suffering a convulsive fit on the day of the final. The resulting spectacle of seeing the biggest talent in world football clearly struggling to make it through the match caused the football world to seriously rethink their approach to caring for their players.
Prevention as the cure
While the increase in squad sizes has gone some way to decrease the burden on players – for example the 1996 Manchester United squad contained only 33 players compared to 52 in 2015 – the very top players are still going to be called upon more often than not and regardless of squad size can often be expected to play 50 plus games per season. The real reason behind the drastic change has come from the tireless research and strategies provided from numerous sports science and physiotherapy departments throughout the game. In a exhaustive study conducted with a Serie A club in Italy over the course of a season it was discovered that physiotherapist led training to build core strength resulted in the number of injuries per 1000 hours of training/playing fell by half from 5.6 to 2.5. This strategy also greatly reduced the proportion of muscle injuries and days absent due to injury. Having physiotherapists lead the training to ensure proper execution became the most significant factor to success across the test groups. So popular was this study it has now become the standard injury prevention strategy employed at most elite clubs. A successful cup and European run can see a player hitting 60 games before they even reach the summer international tournament – an incredible toll on even the most robust of bodies and one that would be impossible without the work of the physiotherapy teams.
At Wolli Creek Physiotherapy & Pilates, you’ll be looked after by highly experienced and passionate young physiotherapists with a range of specialist skills and qualifications. We treat and heal all injuries and pain problems, for all kinds of people.