Injury surveillance in amateur sport – avoiding potential pitfalls (Caithriona Yeomans)

In my previous blog, I discussed the difficulties with conducting comprehensive injury surveillance, particularly in relation to different injury definitions used, the methods of reporting injury rates and how to calculate the severity of an injury. As part of my PhD research on the Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance (IRIS) Project, I am collecting injury data from amateur Rugby clubs around Ireland. Having researched various injury surveillance systems, it was evident that many of the comprehensive prospective surveillance systems existed in the professional sports setting, with limited information available regarding amateur cohorts.

This left me with a lot of questions:

  • Would an injury surveillance system used in professional cohorts work as well in an amateur setting?
  • Would injury surveillance be more difficult in an amateur cohort?
  • Would the injuries reported, the compliance in reporting and the barriers to reporting be the same in the professional and amateur game?

Using this information and wary of the questions floating around my head, the IRIS project designed a bespoke surveillance system, with an amateur sporting cohort in mind. In today’s blog I’m going to discuss some of the difficulties I’ve encountered working in with amateur Rugby clubs and try give some tips on how to combat these.

The first issue I found in amateur clubs is the availability of qualified medical professionals. In a professional club, there is likely to be a team of physiotherapists, doctors, strength and conditioning coaches (to name but a few) available to report injuries, monitor trends and guide prevention strategies. The accuracy of injury surveillance data is reliant on the skill of the observer (or injury recorder). While the professional teams have fully qualified medical professionals recording this data, in the amateur game you may be reliant on non-medics such as club welfare officers and coaches. Cognisant of this, the IRIS project has implemented a two-tiered system in order to capture all injury data but also ensure accuracy of the data reported. The initial injury may be recorded by the nominated injury recorder at the time of injury, give a ‘provisional diagnosis’. This may be updated following an assessment with a medical professional to give a ‘final diagnosis’ to ensure accuracy. IRIS injury recorders were also trained prior to the season starting to make sure they were comfortable using the system and aware of the injury definitions IRIS is using.

Compliance is going to be difficult in all cohorts during a research project, however it may be more difficult to ensure buy-in with amateur clubs. This may be due to the availability of resources and staff to carry out the work. In the amateur game, club staff are often voluntary and will have work commitments outside of the sport. So adding to their workload is going to be the main barrier to compliance. To try and combat this, make sure the information you want to collect is clear, relevant and simple. You need to balance the amount of information you want to collect with how time-consuming this will be for the participants. You also need to make sure that the methods by which you’re collecting the data are easy to use and accessible when your participants need to use it. The IRIS project uses a web-based injury report form, which can be used on all laptops/phones/tablets and on all internet browsers to make the form accessible to injury recorders at all times. The injury report form is mainly made up of questions with ‘drop-down’ boxes to select an answer, to limit the amount of writing for the injury recorder and therefore making it quicker to complete.

Communication is key during research projects and particularly when working with amateur cohorts. Regular reminders to update the system may be beneficial, particularly as voluntary staff may not be in the club as frequently so may forget to update the system during the week. This also means you need to be flexible when meeting participants or answering their questions, as they will usually want to contact you outside of normal working hours. It may be worthwhile to ask participants what results they would like from their participation in your research project to help with compliance. The IRIS project also gives monthly summaries to each participating club and this is to maintain their interest in the project and to show them the importance of their work recording the injuries. The IRIS injury recorders have reported that this is one of their preferred incentives.

In summary, injury surveillance in amateur sport is important as amateur athletes are the main participants in any sport. It’s not safe to assume that amateur athletes will endure the same injuries as their professional counterparts. However, working with amateur groups may be more difficult so make sure you:

  • Ensure your data is accurate by training your participants to be able to record the information you need.
  • Have a system that allows for multiple injury recorders to document injuries and update as necessary following medical assessment.
  • Make your system user-friendly, simple and relevant. If it’s too complicated or requires too much time-commitment then your participants will not engage in the work.
  • Ask your participants what information they would like back from you, this can help increase buy-in and keep them interested in your work!
  • Be prepared to answer calls/emails in the evening and weekends. This is usually when they’ll be working in the club/with the athletes so likely when they’ll have questions they want answered!

 

Caithriona Yeomans is a Senior Physiotherapist working in private practice and  holds a MSc in Sports and Exercise Medicine (Queen Mary University of London).   She is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences at the University of Limerick working with the IRFU to implement injury monitoring and prevention programmes in rugby.  Her areas of interest include rugby, dance medicine, paediatrics and exercise rehabilitation.  Her teaching interests include sports injury and biomechanics.  View Caithriona’s profile on LinkedIn  follow her on twitter @cyeomansPT   or contact her at  Caithriona.yeomans@ul.ie 

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