Objective: To investigate the effectiveness of a 10-week hamstring exercise training program in reducing the incidence and severity of new and recurrent hamstring injuries among male soccer players.
Design: Cluster-randomized (by team)controlled trial, stratified by level of play and geographic location. Sample size was calculated with 80% power to show a relative risk reduction for injury of 50% at P ≤ 0.05.
Setting: Soccer community study in Denmark during the period January to December 2008.
Participants: Teams in the top 5 soccer divisions (2 professional and 3 amateur)were invited to participate. The exclusion criterion for teams was that they already used eccentric hamstring exercises, and for participants was that they joined the teams after the beginning of the season. Of 116 teams, 54 were eligible and willing to be randomized and 50 were included in the analysis (942 players).
Intervention: Teams in both the intervention and control groups followed their normal training programs. At the beginning of the study period, the intervention teams added 27 sessions of the Nordicham string exercise (after warm-up) during the 10-week period of the mid-season break. The exercise begins with the player kneeling with the torso upright and rigid, and the feet held down to the ground by a partner. The player lowers his torso forwards toward the ground braking with his hamstring muscles until the chest reaches the ground (eccentric phase). He returns to the upright position, pushing with his hands to minimize the concentric phase load. Sessions per week and sets and repetitions per session increased to 3, 3, and 12, respectively. Team coaches supervised the sessions.
Main outcome measures: A hamstring injury was defined as an acute occurrence of a “physical complaint in the region of the posterior thigh sustained during a soccer match or training, irrespective of the need for medical attention or time loss from soccer activities.” Injuries were recorded by the teams’ medical staff on standardized forms. Only first injuries during the season were included and recorded as first-time injuries or recurrences of injuries sustained before the season.Severity of injury was defined by number of days lost from full participation in games and practices.
Main results: Injury rates per 100 player sessions were lower for the intervention group (3.8) than for the control group(13.1); thus, the rate ratio (RR) adjusted for age, level of competition, and previous injury was 0.293 (95% confidence interval[CI], 0.150-0.572). Both rates of new and recurrent injuries were lower for the intervention group than for the control group(new injuries: RR, 0.410; 95% CI, 0.180-0.933; recurrent injuries: RR, 0.137; 95% CI, 0.037-0.509). The 15 injuries in the intervention group resulted in absence of 454 days from soccer (mean, 30.3; SD, 18.3; range, 7-64 days per injury), whereas 51 injuries in the control group resulted in 1344 days absent (mean, 26.4; SD, 19.5; range, 4-89 days per injury). Mean severity of injuries (days absent) was not significantly different (P = 0.16) between groups. Delayed onset muscle soreness,but no other adverse effect, was reported by most members of the intervention group during the training period.
Conclusions: An eccentric hamstring exercise program was associated with lower rates of new and recurrent hamstring injuries in Danish male soccer players.