Why screening tests to predict injury do not work-and probably never will…: a critical review

Br J Sports Med. 2016 Jul;50(13):776-80. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096256. Epub 2016 Apr 19.


This paper addresses if and how a periodic health examination to screen for risk factors for injury can be used to mitigate injury risk. The key question asked is whether it is possible to use screening tests to identify who is at risk for a sports injury-in order to address the deficit through a targeted intervention programme. The paper demonstrates that to validate a screening test to predict and prevent sports injuries, at least 3 steps are needed. First, a strong relationship needs to be demonstrated in prospective studies between a marker from a screening test and injury risk (step 1). Second, the test properties need to be examined in relevant populations, using appropriate statistical tools (step 2). Unfortunately, there is currently no example of a screening test for sports injuries with adequate test properties. Given the nature of potential screening tests (where test performance is usually measured on a continuous scale from low to high), substantial overlap is to be expected between players with high and low risk of injury. Therefore, although there are a number of tests demonstrating a statistically significant association with injury risk, and therefore help the understanding of causative factors, such tests are unlikely to be able to predict injury with sufficient accuracy. The final step needed is to document that an intervention programme targeting athletes identified as being at high risk through a screening programme is more beneficial than the same intervention programme given to all athletes (step 3). To date, there is no intervention study providing support for screening for injury risk.

Keywords: Anterior cruciate ligament; Assessment; Epidemiology; Hamstrings; Review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Mass Screening / standards*
  • Risk Factors