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Pre-Season Fitness Not a Factor in Collegiate Sports Injury Risk

MONDAY, July 23 (HealthDay News) -- Levels of pre-season fitness do not predict how quickly college athletes may be injured during the season, but their gender and the type of sport they play do, a new study indicates.

Canadian researchers assessed pre-season fitness among athletes on six varsity teams and found that women had a shorter time to injury than men. Certain sports, such as volleyball, also had a much shorter time to injury than other sports, including hockey and basketball.

The pre-participation fitness tests given to the athletes in the study included a vertical jump test to assess anaerobic power, and measurements of lower body strength, lower back and hip flexibility, agility, upper body strength, core strength and flexibility, and shoulder flexibility.

More than two-thirds of the athletes suffered an injury during their seasons, with muscle or tendon strains in the legs or feet being most common. While 55 percent of the athletes missed at least one practice due to injury, most did not miss any games. About 40 percent of the injuries occurred during pre-season practice, the study found.

On average, female athletes suffered their first injury about 40 percent of the way through the season, compared with 66 percent of the way through the season for male athletes, the University of Alberta researchers reported.

Injuries occurred sooner in volleyball than in any other sport -- less than 20 percent of the way through the season for women and 35 percent of the way through the season for men.

The safest sport was men's hockey, according to the findings, with first injuries occurring an average of three-quarters of the way through the season.

Pre-season fitness had no overall effect on athletes' time to injury during their season, concluded the study published online in the journal Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Technology.

"The only association we found between pre-season fitness and injury was that [having less] upper body strength, as evaluated by push-ups, was associated with a shorter time to injury -- this was despite most of the injuries being associated with the lower body," researcher Michael Kennedy said in a journal news release.

"Our study attempted to answer the question whether fitter athletes are more resilient to injury than less fit athletes," he continued. "We know from our data that differences exist between risk of injury in pre-season training, regular season training and actual games. However, most importantly, our data clearly show that time to first injury for athletes is more heavily influenced by gender and sport than pre-season fitness."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about sports injuries.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Technology, news release, July 22, 2012

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