Football Injuries during the pandemic

Football Injuries during the pandemic

It’s been more than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic forced suspension of all sports competitions in our country. From that moment on, professional football teams had to reinvent themselves in order to continue training and keep their players in the best possible physical shape, as the future of the virus was uncertain and they had to be prepared for a return to competition at any moment. One year on, have we seen the full consequences of footballers who’ve suffered from covid? In this post, we’ll try to review the post-covid injuries in football.

How has football tried to avoid the pandemic?

Once the de-escalation of lockdown began and the players were able to return to exercise in their sports facilities, LaLiga established a protocol for professional footballers, a very comprehensive one, in order to prevent putting at risk the players, their families, the technical teams and others involved in the clubs as much as possible.

How have football teams coped in the pandemic?

At first, there were a few weeks of an improvised and necessary “pre-season” before returning to the competition, since the players, despite having been training at home, were not in a position to resume competition just yet.

The protocol stated that they had to work individually, maintaining safe distances from their peers and without sharing equipment.

Later, the clubs were allowed to train in groups of up to 10 players, thus allowing them to carry out training with a little more specificity than the individual work, and the players could have contact with members of their normal training group.

The next step was to perform group trainings, trying to limit contact and the time in which players were close to each other as much as possible. This protocol would be maintained until professional competition restarted in the June 2020.

LaLiga Covid-19 Protocol

Regarding security measures, all players had to take a PCR test when arriving at the facilities, as well as 48h before each match, once the competition started.

In addition, all players had to access the facilities individually, with the use of masks, gloves and hydroalcoholic gel mandatory.

Regarding training clothes, each player had to arrive at the facilities with his training clothes and go home with them too, with the use of changing rooms prohibited, being a major environment with risk of contagion.

Non-professional football

For amateur and non-professional football, however, the measures and protocols implemented by their professional neighbours were impossible. As such, they decided to suspend all non-professional and formative football competitions.

In particular, leagues from the third national category down were concluded, playing only the playoffs for promotion, with all the aforementioned security measures for professional football.

Football training during the pandemic

As far as the players are concerned, in most cases they spent more than 3 months without being able to exercise, and several more months without performing specific training, not having the space to train at home nor the permission to return to training in their clubs after the de-escalation.

Regarding the start of the 20-21 season, it has been very different depending on the category and the autonomous community. Each autonomy established its own plans for the sport during the pandemic.

To this day, communities such as Castile and León have not yet allowed the return to professional football competition. In those that have allowed a return to competition, as is the case of Madrid, there are protocols that include the prohibition of the use of changing rooms, tests for players in national categories, and the use of masks during football practice, among many others.

Main risk factors in football

As we well know, football is a sport with a high level of contact between the athletes, both with our own team and with the rival team. Because of this, the risk of getting infected during a football match or training is a fact we just can’t ignore when making decisions.

It is therefore of vital importance to take all safety measures indicated in the anti-Covid protocols, because there are numerous risk factors during sports practice.

Covid football risks

One of the main risk factors is the use of the changing rooms, as, under normal conditions, there are about 30-35 people in a dressing room of a professional team, with players, coaching staff and the medical team of the club during each training session and match.

For this reason, the changing rooms would be an obvious environment rife for contacting the virus in the event anyone from the group became infected.

Another risk factor would be players’ contact with peers and rivals during sports practice. While it’s true that the virus is mainly transmitted by air, players sweat during activity and touch their mouths, eyes, etc.

Studies on injuries during the pandemic

The period of confinement that began last March 2020 marked an unprecedented halt in world football. The players, accustomed to a high level of training and very demanding competitions, were locked at home having to perform very non-specific training that had nothing to do with their sport.

As such, although the players continued to train at home under the supervision of their physical coaches, the unspecificity meant that, after returning to the field of play following the confinement, the incidence of injuries among players soared – as their tissues were no longer used to the stimuli of football, their structures had suffered a certain degree of detraining.

Among the most common injuries with the return to training and competition after confinement are ankle sprains and muscle injuries.

It’s quite logical that these structures are the ones to suffer the most injuries, as the intensity of the stimuli to which they are subjected during football practice differs greatly from the type of training that can be done locked up at home.

As if this were not enough, the eagerness of the competent bodies to finish the competition forced the clubs to also play matches during the week, which gave even less recovery time to some players who were already forcing their bodies to return to competition level after a long break.

The consequence of this accumulation of factors was, as we have already mentioned, a clear increase in injuries both at the ligament and muscle levels at the end of the 19-20 season and at the start of the 20-21.

What are the most common injuries after overcoming COVID?

While it’s true that there is not yet much scientific evidence linking these injuries to having overcome Covid-19, certain patterns are beginning to emerge that seem to indicate a relationship between the two factors.

Everything indicates that one of the most common injuries after overcoming the virus are muscle injuries, as has been the case with footballers such as Pogba (Manchester United) or Cheryshev (Valencia), who have been away from the practice of football for a while.

However, it is not yet clear why this relationship exists. One possible cause would be the degradation of tissues due to fever and inactivity, coupled with a return to competition too quickly after medical discharge. If we add to this a possible degradation of the cardiorespiratory system as a result of the virus that limits the oxygen supply to the tissues, the most normal thing would be that this would trigger a lack of oxygen in the muscles that precipitates their damage through activity.

Despite this, what worries doctors the most is that the most high-known cases are occurring in players who have passed covid virtually asymptomatically, which would rule out the fever theory.

Several sports doctors agree on the definition of the virus as dynamic which, it seems, can cause late symptoms, especially in those patients who pass it on asymptomatically. In addition, they point out that these effects or symptoms can affect the whole body and not only the respiratory system.

Therefore, the health authorities are urging people to take extra caution when returning to training and competition after having overcome the virus, whether it’s a patient who has had symptoms or not.

Other aftereffects of the pandemic on footballers

As we have seen, although muscle problems have been the most abundant in professional players after overcoming the virus, they haven’t been the only ones.

There have been much more serious and worrying cases, which are the ones that have triggered alarms among sports medicine doctors, as these effects appear when the player, supposedly, has already overcome the virus.

Such cases are recognised as persistent, and indicate that the player won’t heal fully until they’ve spent a minimum of 3 months without symptoms.

One of the most famous has been the spontaneous deep vein thrombosis suffered by Diego Costa (former Atletico Madrid player) in his right leg, which had to be operated on.

Thrombosis appears when a blood clot occurs in one or more veins in the body, obstructing them and causing pain.

Another of the best-known cases has been that of Athletic Club player Yuri Berchiche, who overcame Covid-19 virtually asymptomatically and returned to competition in 15 days.

The player played 3 full matches without any problems or strange symptoms. However, in the two subsequent matches the player had to ask for a substitution before the 50th minute before become dizzy, weak and unwell. Doctors believe that it may also be aftereffect of the disease, although there is still a lot of uncertainty.

This being so, if we have overcome Covid, even if it’s been asymptomatic, the health authorities insist we are vigilant in our return to sports, and that we start playing again in a progressive and controlled manner, going to a specialist if we notice something’s not right.

Sources consulted:

Other links you might be interested in:

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury, an injury footballers fear.
  • Training at home to be a top level footballer, click here.
Review of Post-Covid Football Injuries

Football Protocols - 100%

Risk factors - 100%

Studies - 100%

Aftereffects - 100%

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About Carlos Gallardo
Carlos Gallardo
Apart from being a sport readaptator of Madrid’s Rayo Vallecano, he’s also passionate about science journalism. In this way, he manages to combine recovery and workout techniques in his specialized articles in the HSN blog.
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