About the NRL returning….
So with the Covid-19 numbers trending in the right direction, the NRL sent out a press release targeting a 28th of May return. Now let’s be clear, it’s not within our scope of practice to comment on whether this is ideal or not from a public health perspective – although we want footy back as much as the rest of you – but let’s talk about the potential return from a physiotherapy perspective.
The NRL put the season on pause from the end of round 2 which was Sunday 22nd March, which would equate to around 10 weeks between games assuming all goes to plan and the league starts back with round 3 on the 28th as they’ve stated. At this point there hasn’t been any info released on resumption of team training sessions so it’s hard to speculate on when that might start. As I write this, the 28th May is 4 weeks away – not a lot time to get things organised and get into a mini ‘pre-season’.
Now some of you are probably thinking “they’re professional footballers, surely they’ll be in tip top shape and be good to go straight away”, but that isn’t necessarily the case. At present, most players will be following their strength and conditioning programs from home. This is provided the players have a fully equipped gym at home, or were able to purchase a setup before the hoards started buying it all up. Even having access to adequate equipment doesn’t mean the player, who is removed from their usual team environment and the motivation that comes with it, will complete their training at the intensity required or even at all. Don’t get me wrong, there will be players who train the house down and are in immaculate shape coming into the re-start of round 3, but there will also be a percentage who haven’t been as diligent and who will start the season in relatively poor condition for an athlete.
What does this matter anyway right? Some players will be fitter than others, what’s the harm?
Clinical reasoning tells us that the deconditioning that occurs as a result of a hiatus such as this will leave them at increased risk of injury during the first part of the season – in particular soft tissue injuries e.g. muscle strains and tendon or ligament tears. Given the unique nature of this type of hiatus, research is scarce in regards to its effect on relative injury risk to the players – however there is some evidence that supports this notion. A study from the U.S. focused on the 2011 NFL season following a 4-month lockout and found a significant increase in achilles tendon ruptures. On average, around 5 achilles rupture injuries occur per season in the NFL – compared to 12 ruptures that occurred during the 2011 pre-season (10 of which occurred in the first 12 days!).
This paper supports the notion that an extended time off team based training, followed by a quick return to play has serious and potentially career threatening effects. The game is different, but the physiological principles stay the same – deconditioning increases your risk of injury.
Footy may be back on your screens soon – and I’m looking forward to it as much as the next person – but a proper return to training and pre-season should be scheduled to enable the players to return to their peak condition before letting them back on the park. If not, expect to see lots of hammy and calf strains – if not achilles or ACL tears.