Professional Soccer Injuries Studied to Determine Level of Severity

August 11, 2010

If you’re a faithful follower of the World Cup games, have you ever wondered if your favorite player is going overboard with an injury or outright faking one? A sports medicine physician and researcher at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center asked that same question to determine if injury embellishments are occurring to give players a needed rest or because the winning team is trying to run out the clock.

“The goals of our study were to determine the frequency of apparent injury incidents in international soccer, describe the circumstances associated with these incidents, and attempt to estimate what proportion of these incidents is authentic,” said Daryl Rosenbaum, M.D., an assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist. “It is not clear that players use injury simulation to rest or gain a tactical advantage based on our results.”

Rosenbaum’s paper, titled “Estimation of Injury Simulation in International Men’s Soccer,” has just been accepted by the International Journal of Sports Medicine (IJSM) and appears online for Thieme Journals, the parent company of IJSM.

Rosenbaum said that in 2008, the International Federation of Association Football, or FIFA, the international governing body of association football, issued a directive calling for “the football family to unite in denouncing simulation and working to eradicate this scourge from the game.” He hopes his research data will aid in developing plans to curb injury simulation behavior to preserve the integrity of the game.

Rosenbaum’s research indicates that incidents of injury are frequent, occurring at a rate of over 11 per match, resulting in seven minutes of game stoppage per contest. He said questionable injuries are more likely to be associated with contact and referee sanctions than definite injuries. This is of particular concern because frequent injury fabrication or exaggeration of severity can make it difficult for a referee to determine when a real injury warrants an immediate stop in play. This could result in treatment delay for injured players or make them more vulnerable to further contact with other players and increased injury.

“While it was difficult to know for certain if a player had a true injury or was faking or embellishing, we found that only 7.2 percent of apparent injuries met our definition for a ‘definite injury’ which required a player to leave the game within five minutes or one that caused visible bleeding,” Rosenbaum said.

Broadcast recordings of 89 group stage games from four major tournaments were reviewed to identify incidents in which a player behaved as if injured. Apparent injuries were considered definite if requiring a player to withdraw from participation within five minutes or if bleeding was visible.  The remaining incidents were considered questionable.  A total of 980 apparent injuries were observed at a rate of 5.63 per team game. The definite injury rate was only 0.41 compared to 5.22 for questionable injuries.

“In the end, I think this study confirmed what most fans already suspected - that soccer players go down with apparent injuries quite often. And while we can’t prove whether any actual faking occurred, I do think it shows that there is quite a discrepancy between the agony frequently displayed by players and how rarely they are hurt badly enough to actually have to leave the game,” Rosenbaum said.

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