Can Motor Control Training Lower the Risk of Injury for Professional Football Players?

Of the injuries reported by the Australian Football League (AFL), lower limb injuries present the highest incidence and prevalence rates. Deficits in the muscles of the lumbo-pelvic region,  a smaller size of multifidus (MF) muscle for instance, have been linked to occurrence of lower limb injuries in the pre-season in AFL players. Motor control training programs have been effective in restoring the size and control of the MF muscle, but the relationship between motor control training and the occurrence of injuries has not been examined thoroughly. This pre-post intervention trial was delivered over the playing season as a panel design with 3 groups. The motor control program involved voluntary contractions of the MF, transversus abdominis (TrA), and pelvic floor muscles while receiving feedback from ultrasound imaging, and progressed into a functional rehabilitation program. Assessments of muscle size and function were performed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and included measurement of cross-sectional areas (CSAs) of MF, psoas (PS), and quadratus lumborum (QL) muscles, and change in trunk CSA due to voluntarily contracting the TrA muscle. Injury data were gathered from club records. Informed consent was obtained from all study participants. A smaller size of the MF muscle (OR=2.38) or QL muscle (OR=2.17) was shown to be predictive of lower limb injury in the playing season. At the time point when one group of players had not received the intervention (n=14), comparisons were made with the combined groups who had received the intervention (n=32). The study found that the risk of suffering a severe injury was lower for those players who were given the motor control intervention (OR=0.09).

It was concluded that while there are many factors associated with injuries in AFL, motor control training  could offer a useful augmentation to strategies targeted at decreasing the occurrence of  lower limb injuries.