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Using Neuromuscular Training To Prevent Injuries In Sports

Due to high international frequency, preventing sports-related injuries is major priority

Injuries suffered as a result of sporting and recreational activities always have and always will be a primary concern for health-care systems throughout the world due to their high rate of occurrence. Figures show that 3.1% of all adults receive medical treatment annually for non-fatal sports injuries each year, making it the second most common type of injury after domestic accidents (3.7%). The most common types of sports-related injuries are sprains, dislocations and ligament ruptures of the knee and ankle. In addition, more severe injuries like anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures and ankle sprains usually lead to even greater complications and long-term disability. Based on the facts, preventing these types of injuries before they even occur would spare many athletes from long periods away from sports and save health-care systems in great dividends. Some interventions that are considered effective for preventing sports injuries are proprioceptive/neuromuscular training (PT/NT) exercises, which are used to teach your body better stability and balance, and how to best react to situations that may cause injuries. Proprioception is your subconscious ability to sense the position and movements of your body and limbs, and PT intends to improve this ability. Unfortunately, though PT/NT are known to be useful, they're not universally implemented because such a wide variety of exercises exist and many studies differ in criteria that restricts their validity. To better address this topic, a powerful review (referred to as a systematic review) of the best current evidence available was conducted to assess the effectiveness of PT/NT for preventing sports-related injuries.

Large pool of studies analyzed for perfect fits

To find studies relevant to the topic matter, major medical databases were searched for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and controlled clinical trials without randomization (CTs)-considered the most powerful types of studies out there-for articles on athletes with and without previous injuries either receiving PT/NT interventions or no treatment at all. Studies that appeared pertinent to the evaluation were then further analyzed to determine if any important information was lacking, and assessed for overall quality. This process turned out an initial 32 relevant studies, of which 25 were excluded either due to missing data or insufficient levels of quality, leaving a total of seven RCTs of high quality to be examined for the review.

Proprioceptive/neuromuscular training reduces injuries for athletes of certain sports

Compiled information showed that the average sample size from the studies was 1,078 subjects, comprised of young athletes, ages 12-24, who regularly participated in the following organized pivot sports: basketball, volleyball, soccer, handball or hockey. In terms of the exercise interventions, three studies used balance training only, while the other four used multi-intervention programs, which consisted of balance training, agilities, stretching, plyometrics (jumping an hopping exercises), running exercises, cutting and strength training. All studies contained an intervention group, which performed these exercises in addition to their usual participation in high school or club sports, and a control group, which only participated in their regular sporting activities.
Of the seven studies analyzed, six clearly demonstrated that balance training or multi-intervention programs can be effective in reducing the incidence of certain sports-related injuries for young and adolescent athletes participating in the aforementioned pivot sports. Further analysis of results showed that balance training was effective at reducing the risk of ankle injuries by 36%, while multi-intervention programs were effective at reducing the risk of lower limb injuries by 39%, acute knee injuries by 54% and ankle sprains by 50%. Based on these findings, PT/NT appears to be beneficial at preventing injuries incurred from certain sports for young and adolescent athletes. Though a few details of the current study require further analysis in the future to better understand specifics, the outcomes provided here should serve as encouragement to coaches and physicians to implement such programs for these athletes with the intent of improving athletes' abilities and reducing their rate of injuries.

-As reported in the March '10 edition of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

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