Study aims to cut injury risks in GAA players

Reducing the risk of injury to young footballers and hurlers due to training overload, skeletal immaturity, and mismatched age groups is the focus of a new national programme designed to tackle the growing epidemic of sports injuries among adolescents.

Up to 800 hurlers and 800 footballers aged 13-18 will take part in the first National Adolescent Injury Prevention Programme, which will monitor players over five years pinpointing when and why lower extremity injuries occur with a view to identifying how to mitigate risk.

A study published in last month’s Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, entitled ‘Epidemiology of injury in male adolescent Gaelic games’, found that a third of all adolescent players developed an injury in one year, and more than a quarter of injured participants sustained a subsequent injury throughout the year.

The study, led by Dr Siobhán O’Connor, athletic rehabilitation therapist at Athlone IT, found match injuries were more frequent than training injuries in Gaelic footballers and hurlers; more than a quarter of injuries were overuse in nature; recurrent injuries were frequent, particularly in footballers (47.3%); and lower limb injuries predominated, particularly in the knee and ankle. Minor injuries were common in hurling (61.7%), with moderate (20.8%) and severe (37.5%) injuries predominant in Gaelic football.

Dr Clare Lodge, chartered physiotherapist and lecturer at IT Carlow, who will lead the injury prevention research programme, said training errors, growth spurts, later maturation, and poor techniques contributed to GAA players being particularly vulnerable to injury.

“This new research programme will set out to study this vulnerable cohort, surveying the modifiable risk factors as well as assessing the effectiveness of specific strategies at potentially decreasing the incidence of injuries within this sporting group,” Dr Lodge said.

A number of schools have already signed up to take part and two sports scientists will carry out the monitoring. Participating schools will take part in structured warm-ups and will also self-monitor and self-report injury incidence via a special app.

Coaches and trainers involved with secondary schools in Leinster and Munster (traditionally participating in the senior schools tournaments) will be included in the study. They will be educated and mentored throughout the season with a designated sports scientist and required to implement a learned programme at the start of every training session or pre-match participation, during the trial period.

Neuromuscular components of each player will be evaluated at the start, middle, and end of the research period to explore and analyse any acquired physical effects that may have occurred.

The programme, a collaboration between the GAA and Institute of Technology Carlow, will ultimately have a strong bearing on informing and guiding optimal GAA practice guidelines when evaluating and implementing injury prevention strategies among young GAA teams, according to Pat Daly, GAA head of games development and research.

“The rising costs of treatment and patient services, as well as high rates of insurance claims for lower limb injuries, also means that the most efficient, economic and optimal measures must be used to minimise injury and reduce costs,” Mr Daly said.

The programme will be run out of IT Carlow’s healthCORE campus research centre.

Schools interested in taking part in the monitoring part of the study can email Dr Lodge: lodgec@itcarlow.ie.


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