Although hamstring muscle strain is common in many sports, research on how such injuries might be prevented has been sadly lacking. Now, however, a team of Australian researchers has stepped into the breach with a study establishing the beneficial effects of a carefully designed hamstring muscle strain intervention programme (‘The effect of sports specific training on reducing the incidence of hamstring muscle injuries in professional Australian Rules football players’, Br J Sports Med 2005; 39:363-368).
The researchers tracked hamstring muscle injuries in a single team of 70 players across four playing seasons, with the diagnosis confirmed in each case by magnetic resonance imaging.
During the first two seasons, the researchers focused on analysing the circumstances in which hamstring muscle injuries were most likely to occur. They discovered through video analysis that many such injuries were sustained immediately after the act of flexing at the trunk while running, usually in the process of acceleration and/or attempting to reach down to grasp the ball while running at high speed.
Based on these observations they designed a highly specific intervention programme that was implemented for all players for the last two seasons of the study. This involved stretching when fatigued – fatigue having been established as a risk factor for hamstring muscle injury – sport specific training drills and an increase in high intensity anaerobic interval training. It also included a specific football training exercise designed to be performed in a position of trunk flexion.
At the end of the study period, the results from the first two years of injury surveillance were compared with those from the last two, giving rise to the following key findings:
‘The principal finding of this study,’ the researchers write, ‘was that implementation of a specific intervention programme resulted in a significant reduction in the number, incidence and consequences (competition games missed) of hamstring muscle injuries in a population of Australian football players.
‘The intervention programme was designed to change the emphasis of pre-season conditioning and in-season training from predominantly aerobic training to increased high intensity interval anaerobic training. In effect, we were attempting to change the specificity of training to “training as the game is played”. This should help prevent hamstring muscle injury by improving hamstring muscle conditioning and developing increased fatigue resistance. It was considered this would enable the athletes to better cope with the running stressors encountered during the game situation, the principal time for hamstring injury.’