Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center

Main content of the page

Information about project titled 'Return to play in elite professional football following muscle injury'

Return to play in elite professional football following muscle injury

Details about the project - category Details about the project - value
Project status: Ongoing
Project manager: Gordon Dunlop
Supervisor(s): Thor Einar Andersen, Alan McCall
Coworker(s): Arsenal Football Club, Clare Arden, Andreas Ivarsson, Les Podlog, Roberto Modena


Background: The return to play (RTP) decision-making process is complex and multifactorial. With high player availability associated with team success, optimizing RTP outcomes following muscle injuries is clearly of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, valid criteria to support return to play judgements are largely lacking and with muscle injury recurrences the possible consequence of inadequate rehabilitation and/or premature return to play. How best to guide rehabilitation progression and inform the timing of return to play decisions represents a significant challenge within professional football.

Aim: To analyse the gap between current practice and research with respect to the criteria used to inform decision making when progressing professional football players through the return to play (rehabilitation) process.

1) To quantify the current return to play practices of elite professional football teams following muscle injury.

2) To analyse the level and quality of existing criteria used to inform rehabilitation progression and support return to play decision-making following muscle injury in professional football players 

3) To provide a novel method to assess player’s psychological readiness to a) return to training b) return to play and c) return to full performance and examine the association with re-injury.

Methods: The thesis follows a mixed methods research design:

Study One – A survey of 131 premier-league football teams worldwide regarding their current RTP practices with respect to hamstring muscle injury.

Study Two – A scoping review to describe the criteria used to progress lower limb muscle injury rehabilitation and inform return to play decisions in high-intensity intermittent football-code team sports.

Study Three – A prospective multi-club cohort study examining the psychological readiness of professional football players returning from injury.

Implications: The translation of research into practice is difficult and often a disconnect exists between the evidence-based recommendations presented by research and the realities of daily practice. By gaining a better understanding of how decisions are being made within daily practice will provide invaluable incites as to how future research should be guided to further support RTP decision-making practices. In addition, the inclusion of valid psychological criteria within a RTP decision-making protocol can help provide a more holistic picture of player readiness and elicit greater confidence in the decisions being taken by key stakeholders.