The Role of the Immune System in Sports Performance
The immune system is our body’s defence system against external elements such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
The super-professionalisation of football in recent years has brought about changes that may affect the performance of football players. The number of games teams play throughout a season has increased, preseason planning has changed and, due to improvements in the teams’ tactical capabilities, the physical and mental demands the players have to face during the games have increased. For this reason, the clubs have had to reinvent themselves, incorporating nutritionists, psychologists and physical rehabilitation specialists into their staff in order to provide the player with the most comprehensive preparation possible in order to optimise performance and prevent injuries. Injuries, especially musculoskeletal, are the main limiting factor for athlete performance. It is also important to add, that one of the most serious problems related to muscle injuries is the high risk of relapse. For example, in the case of hamstring injuries (very common among footballers), about 13% of players relapse the first week after going back to training with the group and about 8% relapse the second week (Seward & Orchar, 2004).
One of the factors that influence this relapse rate is the level of cooperation between coaches and medical services. In these cases, establishing the different competencies and responsibilities for the management of injured players as well as action protocols regarding their return to the competition is vital, especially when there isn’t an agreement in the decision making between the different members of the staff. Having this in mind, so far, there hasn’t been an evaluation which takes into account the lack of cooperation between the technical and medical team as a risk factor facing a potential relapse. Therefore, a novel study (Ghrairi et al., 2019) in which FC Barcelona’s Medical Services has taken part, has analysed how the different degree of cooperation between doctors and coaches of a professional football team in the United Arab Emirates influences on the incidence of injury relapse.
For this purpose, 97 players were followed for a total of 15 seasons. All the injuries were extracted from medical records, while the data on the perceived level of cooperation between medical and technical teams were collected on a daily basis with a scale that went from 1 (Poor) to 3 (Excellent). The results showed that there was a higher number of total injuries (77 versus 61), muscle injuries (32 versus 20), and relapses (5 versus 1) during seasons with a low level of cooperation compared to seasons with a normal/excellent level of cooperation.
In summary, these results confirm that the lack of coordination between coaches and medical teams implies a higher risk of relapse in professional football teams. The cooperation and communication between coaches and doctors should always be ongoing, especially during the phase of return to training with the rest of the group. During this key period, the player must undergo a very specific, controlled and progressive strengthening programme to prevent the risk of a new injury or relapse. As a result, we see that the implementation of prevention programmes, as well as the management of the phase of return to normal sports activity, requires a high level of cooperation between the medical and technical teams.
The Barça Innovation Hub team
Ghrairi, M., Loney, T., Pruna, R., Malliaropoulos, N., & Valle, X. (2019). Effect of poor cooperation between coaching and medical staff on muscle re-injury in professional football over 15 seasons. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 10, 107-113.
Seward, H., & Orchard, J. (2004). AFL injury report 2003. Sport Health, 22, 7.
An article published in The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine —in which members of the club’s medical services participated— now suggests to consider the detailed structure of the area affected, and treating the extracellular matrix as an essential player in the prognosis of the injury.