This paper, from the UEFA Elite Club Injury Study, has shown that muscle injuries occur more frequently when players have less than five days recovery between matches.1.
Clubs participating in the UEFA Elite Club Injury Study are often participating in the UEFA Champions League, in addition to their domestic leagues, and as a result have a relatively congested match calendar. The primary aim of this paper was to investigate the impact of these matches on injury rates. Two different variables were used to investigate this. Short-term match congestion was defined as the number of days that had elapsed since the player’s last recorded match (days between matches). Long-term match congestion was defined as the total hours of match exposure that the player had been exposed to in the preceding 30 days.
If players were allowed more than six days between matches, the muscle injury rate was about 20% lower than if they had three days (or less) between fixtures. There was no difference between the ‘short-term’ measures and the rates of other injury types. The study also did not demonstrate any association between long term match congestion and injury rates.
The physiological and psychological impact of load are likely contributor to the higher rates muscle injury. It is known that signs of impaired muscle performance, damage and fatigue can remain for up to 72 hours after a football match. Mental fatigue has been less well studied however may also increase the risk of injury through altered decision making and impaired technical performance .
This study suggests that playing matches with a relatively short turn around (less than five days) is associated with an increased risk of injury. This may be a clinically relevant finding that could impact how a team is selected and may help teams identify players that are at an increased risk of injury. In reality however it would be difficult to implement an adequate rest period. Player rotation strategies would have a role here however it would not be possible to rotate an entire team. It is also unlikely to be logistically feasible to schedule matches to reflect a six day rest period between games.
Bengtsson H, Ekstrand J, Waldén M, et al Muscle injury rate in professional football is higher in matches played within 5 days since the previous match: a 14-year prospective study with more than 130 000 match observations Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1116-1122.