Researchers at Edge Hill University have carried out the first ever systematic review on the impact of match congestion on injuries in professional football.
And they found fixture congestion puts players at increased risk of injury during matches, meaning teams will likely have to manage their players’ workloads over the Christmas period to avoid missing games through fitness concerns.
Evidence shows that about 40% of professional footballers believe they play too many games per season and more than half (55%) identifying at least one injury caused by an overloaded schedule, concerns which are backed up by the findings of this review. As well as fixture congestion, recovery could also be affected by travel schedules and kick off times – putting players at even greater risk of injury.
Lead researcher Dr Richard Page, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Biomechanics at Edge Hill University, said: “Christmas fixtures are an important tradition in British football but there is no denying that the number of games in such a short period of time puts players at increased risk of getting injured.
“This year more than ever, with a condensed second half of the season due to the World Cup in Qatar, managers will have to consider player workloads and rotation to reduce that risk.
“In the long term, developing a more sustainable match calendar would help mitigate the risks faced by players and help prolong the longevity of their careers.
“It could be argued that TV revenue is the key determinant of match schedules, but additional considerations should be made in relation to the players welfare and to maintain the game as a spectacle. Until these changes are made, coaches and practitioners may need to rest players in matches where previously they would have played.”
Further research is needed to determine whether female and youth players are similarly affected.
“Interestingly, although based on a limited number of studies, we found that injuries suffered during congested schedules appear to result in reduced lay off durations and are not as burdensome as those outside of these periods.
“Although speculative, these injuries are potentially related to the gradual onset of ‘niggles’ because of a prolonged increase in match volumes and accumulated load. These ‘niggles’ will however result in lost playing time and may lead to potentially more burdensome injuries in the future.
“Injuries picked up during these periods could also be brought on by previous injuries, with the residual fatigue from previous matches potentially increasing the risk of recurrent injuries during short- and long-term match congestion.
“Players that have recently been absent due to injury must be closely monitored during congested schedules especially when managers may be more inclined to pick players based on their perceived importance of the matches, and not on their ability to recover and perform again in a subsequent match.”Dr Richard Page
The findings of the study, which was carried out jointly with Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Münster, provide actionable steps for practitioners to plan and develop safer training and competition agendas.
The evidence provided can also be useful for governing bodies to elicit policy and cultural change to support athlete welfare and develop a more sustainable match calendar that promotes a player’s career longevity.
Research considered as part of the review was conducted before the widespread adoption of extra substitutions. The impact of this change on mitigating injury risk is not yet known.
December 22, 2022