Sports have long been the greatest single cause of injury in the western world, though as a cause of accidental fatality it remains comparatively infrequent. Not all such injuries are inevitable, however, or inseparable from the sporting activity which give rise to them.
A paper in a recent British Medical Journal demonstrates that it is possible for adolescent female soccer players to avoid nearly two-thirds of the anterior cruciate ligament injuries to the knee to which they are susceptible, by the simple expedient of performing a 15-minute neuromuscular warm-up exercise before the beginning of a match.
The study was carried out with characteristic thoroughness in Sweden, where 309 clubs with adolescent female players were randomly allocated to those whose players performed the warming-up exercises under the direction of a trainer and those whose players did not. The rate of cruciate ligament injury was calculated over the following season of seven months.
Seven of 2479 players who performed the exercises had such an injury in the course of the season, while 14 of 2085 who did not perform them were injured in this way.
Assuming — as seems likely — that each player played twenty matches during the season, this means that 12,395 hours of exercise had to be performed to avoid about 8 cruciate ligament injuries, that is to say 1,565 hours per injury avoided. There is, of course, no objective method of determining whether the effort was worth it; it depends on the scale of values employed. What would the players who exercised have been doing if they had not done their exercises? Chatted about their boyfriends? This might surely seem a more agreeable way to spend fifteen minutes.