Researchers at the University of Southampton are part of the £3m Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis which hopes to reduce the impact of injuries caused by playing sport in both elite and recreational sports players. They aim to develop better injury prevention and treatment methods, and create screening tools which can predict an individual’s risk of developing osteoarthritis as a result of sports injury.
The Southampton arm of the centre will specifically target young footballers at risk of a common type of groin and hip pain, which can cut short careers, and potentially lead to osteoarthritis in later life.
They will be working with Southampton FC and other clubs to design targeted training programmes aimed at reducing the incidence of injuries among academy and first team players.
Maria Stokes, Professor of Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation at the University of Southampton who is leading the Southampton arm of the seven-site centre said: “More than 80% of footballers have a problem which can cause hip or groin pain during their careers. Young footballers are at particular risk from a potentially career-ending form of injury to the hip and groin called femoroacetabular impingement (FAI). We don’t know the cause of this problem, but over-training as the bones are developing may play a role.”
In FAI the head of the thigh bone rubs against the socket, leading to intermittent groin or hip pain in the short term, and potentially osteoarthritis of the hip in the longer term.
Rickie Lambert, who has experienced hip pain but has managed it successfully through exercise, said: “Hip pain is one of the most common injuries amongst footballers, and some players have to retire early if they don’t get the correct treatment. I’ve been very lucky at my club; I’ve got certain exercises I do that have helped me and improve the problems I’ve had.
The fact that Rickie is the joint top English goal scorer in the Premier League in the 2012-3 season is testament to the success of his treatment.
He added: “Making sure young footballers get the right treatment in their teens is massively important and will improve their chances of succeeding in the game. If these problems can be picked up early by automatic testing, the better for everyone. On behalf of all professional footballers I’d like to show my support for the new centre’s research.”
Researchers will investigate the effects of FAI in young footballers from the ages of nine. They will take players into the biomechanics laboratory at the university and make precise measurements of their movements during various activities such as kicking a ball, using state-of-the-art 3-D technology.
Dr Martin Warmer, senior research fellow at the centre said: “It’s important to determine the movements that are associated with this problem to fully understand the demand on the joints. This will help to inform which type of exercises are needed to correct the problem and reduce the load through the joints.”
Professor Stokes and her team are also designing a range of targeted training programmes aimed at reducing the incidence of injuries in professional footballers – a concept known in the sports rehabilitation world as ‘pre-habilitation.’ This will involve developing ways of improving training and warm-ups to reduce the incidence of injuries such as pulled muscles and tendons, and don’t overload their joints during matches and in training. They hope their research will enhance current FIFA (F-Marc: Football for health) and 11-plus guidelines on warming-up.
The new research centre’s remit also extends beyond footballers to other elite sports and members of the public who play sport for recreational purposes. A quarter of the population experience hip pain at some point in their lives.
“Regular exercise is vital to keep your joints healthy, and we want to find effective treatments and preventative measures,” added Professor Stokes. “The long-term benefits of exercise far outweigh the risk of injury, and we want to keep people active and injury-free.”
“This is the first time in Europe that specialists in sports medicine and osteoarthritis are combining their expertise to understand why some sports injuries will go on to develop into osteoarthritis, and whether we can prevent or slow down degeneration of joints.”
An injury to the joint is one of the main risk factors for osteoarthritis, along with ageing and obesity. Approximately eight million people in the UK are affected by osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of joint disease.
Mo Gimpel, head physiotherapist at Southampton FC added: “We have found that players’ hip and groin pains, including FAI symptoms, can be resolved through exercise specifically developed for the individual. This is especially effective in three areas, symptomatic FAI; chronic groin pain and as a preventative measure to stop symptoms in the hip and groin area in the first place.
“To make this treatment even more effective, we need to examine these findings in a more robust and academic way with experienced researchers to help develop the knowledge base of our profession, and improve the care of players.”
Jo Hipkiss, a specialist sports and musculoskeletal physiotherapist in Southampton, who is also a physiotherapists for the English Institute of Sport, and the British Army, said: “Physiotherapists recommend regular physical activity to maintain good general health. It is therefore encouraging to see this investment in research to better understand the nature and impact of common sporting injuries. The learning from this work will help people exercise safely and keep active.”
The Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis is a consortium of seven universities led by Nottingham University Hospitals and the Universities of Oxford and Nottingham and involving the Universities of Southampton, Bath, Loughborough, Leeds and University College London.
For more information about looking after your joints when exercising visit www.arthritisresearchuk.org If you are interested in taking part in the research contact centre administrators firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com