Handball is a high-intensity sport with frequent contact between the players, and these two factors increase the risk of injury. Several studies have tried to evaluate the characteristics of this risk, but they have been unable to reach sufficiently reliable conclusions.
However, a new study of all the FC Barcelona handball categories by doctors Mauricio Mónaco (pediatrician and sports medicine specialist, former member of the club’s medical area), José Antonio Gutiérrez (responsible for the medical area of Handball), and Gil Rodas (medical specialist at the club), has attempted to shed more light on the subject. They analyzed injury patterns in players from the different categories of the club over two complete seasons, and took several factors into account.
“Many players, including youths, participated in the study, which is something that has rarely been done in the past. They were all studied thoroughly and homogenously,” assured Rodas. The results were published in the Biology of Sport magazine, and suggests that there are differences in the injury patterns according to category, player position and, interestingly, the maturation point of younger players.
Differences to keep in mind
The study analyzed the injuries sustained by all the players in the club’s different categories over two consecutive seasons. Only the first division players were excluded, since they are submitted to a different, far more demanding calendar than the rest of the sample, which could have skewed the results. In the end, the ages included ranged from 12 to 27 years.
Although no significant differences were observed in the number of injuries between youth and adults, the latter did present a higher risk of muscle injuries, ankle injuries, and also head injuries. This is probably due to the higher intensity during competition.
In terms of injury risk by position on the field, the only differences appeared in second line players (pivots and wings), who suffer more knee and articular cartilage problems than those on the first line or the goalkeepers. In the case of pivots, this could be because they tend to be physically larger and experience more collisions during the game. And although wings are smaller and more agile, the high number of jumps and falls could determine these results.
Finally, this study is innovative because it looked at younger players not just by chronological age, but also by their sexual maturation, which is a characteristic more in accordance with their biological age. To determine this, testicular volume was measured and the Tanner stage was used, thus allowing the researchers to distinguish between the different periods of puberty. Once the young players were classified as mature or immature, it was seen that the immature players had a greater risk of apophysitis, which is a type of injury characteristic of sports during school age, in which the muscle tendon tractions and erodes the growth cartilage.
This study is the third in a series of publications that appeared previously in the magazine Apunts de Medicina de l’Esport. It is also the only study in the world done on injury and maturation parameters in handball, as accredited in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
“All this data allows us to adopt strategies that we applied immediately in each of the categories some time ago,” assured Rodas.
The article concludes that “we must reinforce muscle injury prevention programs in adults, but we also have to take measures to avoid apophysitis in younger players,” says Mauricio Monaco.
The Barça Innovation Hub team