Does Overexertion Correlate With Increased Injury? The Relationship Between Player Workload and Soft Tissue Injury in Professional American Football Players Using Wearable Technology

Li, R.T., Salata, M.J., Rambhia, S., Sheehan, J., Voos, J.E.

Background:
The relationship of training load on injury using wearable technology has not been investigated in professional American football players. The primary objective of this study was to determine the correlation between player workload and soft tissue injury over the course of a football season utilizing wearable global positioning system (GPS) technology.

Hypothesis:
Increased training load is associated with a higher incidence of soft tissue injuries.

Study Design:
Case-control study.

Level of Evidence:
Level 3.

Methods:
Player workloads were assessed during practice sessions of the preseason and regular season using GPS tracking and triaxial accelerometry from 2014 to 2016. Soft tissue injuries were recorded during each season. Player workload during the week of injury (acute) and average weekly workload during the 4 weeks (chronic) prior to injury were determined for each injury and in uninjured position-matched controls during the same week. A matched-pairs t test was used to determine differences in player workload. Subgroup analysis was also conducted to determine whether observed effects were confounded by training period and type of injury.

Results:
In total, 136 lower extremity injuries were recorded. Of the recorded injuries, 101 injuries with complete GPS and clinical data were included in the analysis. Injuries were associated with greater increases in workload during the week of injury over the prior month when compared with uninjured controls. Injured players saw a 111% (95% CI 66%-156%) increase in workload whereas uninjured players saw a 73% (95% CI 34%-112%) increase in workload during the week of injury (P = 0.032). Individuals who had an acute-to-chronic workload ratio higher than 1.6 were 1.5 times more likely to sustain an injury relative to time- and position-matched controls (64.6% vs 43.1%, P = 0.004).

Conclusion:
Soft tissue injuries in professional football players were associated with sudden increases in training load over the course of a month. This effect seems to be especially pronounced during the preseason when player workloads are generally higher. These results suggest that a gradual increase of training intensity is a potential method to reduce the risk of soft tissue injury.

Clinical Relevance:
Preseason versus regular season specific training programs monitored with wearable technology may assist team athletic training and medical staff in developing programs to optimize player performance.

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