Baseline Data

Data is becoming increasingly important in injury prevention, but is it reliable? ROB BRANDHAM explains.

A detailed assessment of an athlete, known as a physical screening, measures attributes such as muscle strength, joint range of movement, flexibility and performance of sport-specific skills. This provides baseline data, which combined with an athlete’s past injury history, can reveal key areas that need focus with regards to performance enhancement and injury prevention. For example, an imbalance in the rotator cuff muscles is a predictor of the development of shoulder problems in tennis players, but it can also be a factor in reducing the power and consistency of a player’s serve. Ankle stiffness has been shown to be a risk factor for an athlete to develop knee pain, with the stiffness perhaps being a leftover from a previous ankle sprain which could reduce the player’s mobility around the court.

Data is changing the game

As more players engage physiotherapists as a precautionary measure, data is helping to increase the trust as player-physiotherapist relationships develop. As experts in their field, players expect physiotherapists to identify areas of concerns and the baseline data gathered from physical screenings provides tangible benchmarks – both in improvements and deteriorations – over time. When injury occurs, this data is valuable for creating rehabilitation targets.

As sports medicine research advances, physiotherapists can be more confident in their diagnosis and make better-informed decisions on best available treatment strategies. Benefits for athletes include extra information is available and more accurate expected recovery timelines can be set.

Flaws in data

As much as we would like it to be, injury recovery is not an exact science. Every athlete responds differently as there are so many variables involved and other information to consider. Where data is most helpful, is defining areas of weakness or deficiency. This helps motivate athletes, as they can use a defined numerical value to create clear goals and track progress.

Even though encouraging research is helping physiotherapists to predict when athletes are at a higher risk of injury, they cannot rely on data alone. Asking a player how they feel is still the best way to get an understanding of their body, while using clinical experience and gut feel to make educated guesses can be just as effective. Data advances are exciting, but cannot provide complete answers yet.

How active a player you are will determine how frequently a screening should be undertaken. If you are training several times per week and playing most weekends then a screening should ideally be done every 3-4 months. A less active player could perform a screening every 6 months.

Author: Rob Brandham