A previous joint injury is the most common cause of osteoarthritis in young individuals. Injury prevention training should therefore be integrated into sports practice to reduce the risk of knee injuries and thus minimize the risk of developing osteoarthritis later in life.
To prevent knee injuries and thereby also prevent osteoarthritis (OA), it is crucial that sports clubs make injury prevention training part of regular training sessions. This is especially important for young players who practice sports such as football, floorball, basketball, and handball, where the knee is particularly exposed to injury. Youth players have been reported to be at as high risk of sustaining knee injuries as senior players.
Injury prevention training commonly aims to improve muscle strength and stability in the legs and core as well as improve movement technique. Both movement technique training (which focuses on the connection between the brain and muscles and how to move in an "optimal" way) and strength training are necessary to reduce the risk of joint injuries.
Girls are particularly vulnerable
Adult athletes are usually more aware of the consequences of a sports injury and therefore better understand the importance of injury prevention training. However, for youth players, coaches must take responsibility for implementing injury prevention training. Injury prevention exercises are beneficial for both young girls and boys, but it has been noted that girls are especially at risk for sports injuries. For example, girls are 3-4 times more likely to experience an anterior cruciate ligament injury than boys.
Fifteen minutes, twice a week
It has been proven that only 10-15 minutes of injury prevention training a couple of times a week reduces the risk of a serious knee injury by about 40%. Young athletes may find it boring to have to begin their training sessions with specific exercises instead of playing right away, and coaches may at times find it difficult to motivate their younger players to take injury prevention exercises seriously. However, as a coach, you should always strive to integrate injury prevention exercises into regular training sessions. You can for example progress the level of difficulty of the exercises and adapt them to the sport in question. When consistent with the exercises, they eventually become a natural part of each training session.
The research project I-PROTECT focusing on injury prevention and performance-enhancing exercises for young handball players (ages 13-17) has been running since 2016. The project is a collaboration between Lund University, the handball clubs LUGI HF and H43 Lund, the Regional Handball Federation in South Sweden, and the Swedish Handball Federation.
Read more about I-PROTECT here.