Massive surge in hamstring injuries as GAA teams push ‘over the edge’

One of the GAA’s most respected physiotherapists believes a “copycat phenomenon” is partly to blame for pushing inter-county training workloads “over the edge”. 

Tyrone minor football physio Marty Loughran made the claim after learning of a concerning spike in hamstring injuries of 8% in 2014 alone.

The figures are based on injury data supplied by inter-county teams to a research group in UCD since the mid-2000s. An injury is deemed to be anything that keeps a player out of a training session or game.

Loughran, who is attached to the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland, revealed between 2007 and 2013, the incidence of hamstring injuries across both codes was 18%. But last season that figure rose to 26%.

He noted data submission is not compulsory and some counties ignore the practice but he believes the 26% figure does highlight a serious problem for the GAA.

The issue of over-training has gained huge media attention recently with pundit Joe Brolly comparing modern inter-county players to “indentured slaves”.

Loughran suggested a big problem is county teams following the lead of other counties who have been successful after taking on punishing training regimes.

“Figures will fluctuate from year to year but to go from 18% over six years to 26% in one year is a massive, massive surge,” said Loughran.

“We’ve got good strength and conditioning coaches, we’ve got good physios, we’ve got good doctors working with these teams. We should be reducing this rate, not having this massive spike.

“That massive spike is an indication, to me, that we have pushed our players beyond that tipping point and we’re no longer able to train at the level we’re training at.

A surge of 8% in hamstring injuries shows that our training volume, our training load is probably too high. You hear these teams that are training twice a day, training every day and then other teams trying to copy that. Well that copycat phenomenon has probably pushed us over the edge.”

Loughran was speaking to delegates at the O’Neill’s Ulster GAA Coaching and Games Development conference in Cookstown. He was joined in a workshop discussion by Ulster GAA’s Ryan Mellon who revealed more worrying stats indicating that overuse of players begins at an early age.

Mellon, an All-Ireland final starter and scorer for Tyrone in the 2005 and 2008 wins over Kerry, revealed the findings of a study of the province’s 22 most talented U16 footballers. Of the 22, eight said they had “ongoing chronic injuries” linked to “overuse”.

“Actually it could be more because we didn’t ask, it was them that came to us with the injuries,” said Mellon.

“Two out of the eight were receiving treatment for the injury. So basically six lads who were injured weren’t receiving any kind of physio treatment.

“These are the elite. Only one out of the eight stopped playing because of the injury and when I asked him about it a wee bit further, he said, ‘I just couldn’t go on, I was in that much pain’.”

Mellon stated a “get what you can out of the player” attitude often exists in the GAA and that for any players who train six or seven days a week, injuries are unavoidable.

He suggested parents should challenge coaches where necessary and cited the example of club training taking place just hours after school training or games.

Loughran said that where season ending cruciate knee ligament injuries are concerned, they account for about 1% of injuries suffered by GAA players. And he detailed the full devastation of the injury which Kerry’s Colm Cooper is currently recovering from.

“Whenever you get a cruciate injury, the force that it takes to tear your cruciate causes a really bad bone bruise in your knee,” Loughran told conference delegates.

“That bone bruise means osteoarthritis in later life is unavoidable. So 10 or 15 years down the line, you will get osteoarthritis in your knee. That means that down the line, when you’re 40 or 50 years of age, when you should be making the most money and rearing a family, you are suffering from chronic knee pain.

“There’s a financial burden that comes with that and a decreased quality of life. So these are massive catastrophic injuries that go way beyond being out for 12 months and missing one season of football. They have a big, big consequence down the line.”


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