Incidence, severity, aetiology and prevention of sports injuries. A review of concepts

Sports Med. 1992 Aug;14(2):82-99. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199214020-00002.


Notwithstanding the healthy influence of sporting activities on risk factors, in particular those of cardiovascular disease, it is becoming increasingly apparent that sports can present a danger to health in the form of sports injuries. The extent of the sports injury problem calls for preventative action based on the results of epidemiological research. For the interpretation of these facts uniform definitions are needed and limitations of research designs should be known. Measures to prevent sports injuries form part of what is called the 'sequence of prevention'. Firstly the extent of the sports injury problem must be identified and described. Secondly the factors and mechanisms which play a part in the occurrence of sports injuries have to be identified. The third step is to introduce measures that are likely to reduce the future risk and/or severity of sports injuries. This measure should be based on the aetiological factors and the mechanism as identified in the second step. Finally the effect of the measures must be evaluated by repeating the first step. In this review some aspects of the first and second step of the sequence of prevention are discussed. The extent of the sports injury problem is often described by injury incidence and by indicators of the severity of sports injuries. Sports injury incidence should preferably be expressed as the number of sports injuries per exposure time (e.g. per 1000 hours of sports participation) in order to facilitate the comparability of research results. However, one should realise that the outcome of research applying this definition of sports injury incidence is highly dependent on the definitions of 'sports injury' and 'sports participation'. The outcome of such research also depends on the applied research design and research methodology. The incidence of sports injuries depends on: the method used to count injuries (e.g. prospective vs retrospective); the method used to establish the population at risk; and on the representativeness of the sample. Severity of sports injuries can be described on the basis of 6 criteria: the nature of the sports injury; the duration and nature of treatment; sporting time lost; working time lost; permanent damage; and cost. Here also uniform definitions are important and necessary in order to enhance the comparability of research data. In the second step of the 'sequence of prevention' the aetiological factors that play a role in the occurrence of a sports injury have to be identified by epidemiological studies. Epidemiological research on the aetiology of sports injuries requires a conceptual model.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries* / epidemiology
  • Athletic Injuries* / etiology
  • Athletic Injuries* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Models, Biological
  • Netherlands
  • Risk Factors