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Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility Assessment

VOETBAL MEDISCH SYMPOSIUM 2020

DE BEHANDELING VAN VOETBALBLESSURES 

PRAKTISCHE WETENSCHAP

OP DE KNVB CAMPUS IN ZEIST VINDT KOMEND JAAR OPNIEUW HET VOETBALMEDISCH SYMPOSIUM PLAATS.

HET SYMPOSIUM IS DÉ PLEK OM COLLEGA’S BINNEN HET VOETBALMEDISCHE DOMEIN TE ONTMOETEN OF KENNIS OP TE DOEN VAN GERENOMMEERDE EXPERTS. EN DIE NIEUWSTE INNOVATIES TE ZIEN OP HET GEBIED VAN VOETBALMEDISCHE EN FYSIEKE PRESTATIES.

NA VORIG JAAR DE DIAGNOSTIEK VAN VOETBALBLESSURES BELICHT TE HEBBEN, ROLT DE BAL DIT JAAR VERDER NAAR DE BEHANDELING VAN VOETBALBLESSURES. HET INHOUDELIJKE PROGRAMMA BIEDT OPNIEUW SPREKERS DIE ZICH ONDERSCHEIDEN IN ZOWEL DE DAGELIJKSE ZORG VOOR DE VOETBALLERS ALS OP WETENSCHAPPELIJK GEBIED.

Ja, ik wil mij aanmelden!

VOETBAL MEDISCHE WORKSHOP 2020

(VELD)REVALIDATIE NA EEN VOETBALBLESSURE

OP 4 MAART ZAL ER WEDEROM EEN WORKSHOP PLAATS VINDEN BIJ HET KNVB VOETBAL MEDISCH CENTRUM. 
OOK DIT JAAR BELOOFD HET EEN OCHTENDVULLEND PROGRAMMA TE ZIJN WAAR VOORNAMELIJK (SPORT)FYSIOTHERAPEUTEN HUN KENNIS MEE KUNNEN UITBREIDEN.

TIJDENS DE WORKSHOP ZAL MATT TABERNER ZIJN KENNIS EN EXPERTICE MET DE DEELNEMERS GAAN DELEN. MATT TABERNER IS EEN ERVAREN CLINICUS DIE AL JAREN EINDVERANTWOORDELIJK IS VOOR DE REVALIDATIE VAN TOPVOETBALLERS IN DE PREMIER LEAGUE. ZIJN FOCUS LIGT VOORNAMELIJK OP FYSIEKE ONTWIKKELING EN PRESTATIES. TEVENS IS HIJ DE ONTWIKKELAAR VAN HET ‘CONTROL-CHAOS CONTINUUM’.

DIT FRAMEWORK, WELKE VIJF FASES BESCHRIJFT HOE DE VELDREVALIDATIE NA EEN VOETBALBLESSURE OPGEBOUWD KAN WORDEN, STAAT CENTRAAL BINNEN DE WORKSHOP. DE THEORETISCHE ACHTERGROND,
DE TOEPASSING EN HET PRAKTISCHE ASPECT ZULLEN ALLEN AAN BOD KOMEN TIJDENS DE WORKSHOP.

JA, IK WIL MIJ AANMELDEN!

reviews

These guys are the best when it comes to style and have great attention to detail. 

Issac Newton
MODEL, FRANCE

These guys are the best when it comes to style and have great attention to detail. 

Issac Newton
MODEL, FRANCE

These guys are the best when it comes to style and have great attention to detail. 

Issac Newton
MODEL, FRANCE

Nick van der Horst

Meet the soccerdoc

Nick van der Horst behaalde zijn diploma fysiotherapie in 2007 aan de Hogeschool Utrecht. Hij werkte 10 jaar lang als sportfysiotherapeut/echografist/docent bij het Academie Instituut te Utrecht. Daarna heeft hij de overstap gemaakt naar waar zijn hart ligt, het professionele voetbal. Hij heeft twee jaar als sportfysiotherapeut en hoofd van de medische staf bij Go Ahead Eagles in Deventer gewerkt. Momenteel is is Nick werkzaam bij de KNVB. Zijn onderzoeks-activiteiten zijn gefocust op de voetbal-medische zorg. In 2017 behaalde hij zijn doctoraal na het verdedigen van zijn proefschrift ‘Prevention of hamstring injuries in male soccer’.

Blogger: Raúl Gómez
Blogger: Raúl Gómez

The previous article demonstrated how restricted ankle dorsiflexion can impact landing mechanics by increasing ground reaction forces and causing medial knee displacement (Taylor et al., 2021). If you haven’t read it yet, we recommend that you do so in order to understand the importance of ensuring adequate ankle mobility in football players. Read here.

Football is a high-intensity sport with a high number of eccentric muscle actions that occur during changes of direction, jumps or decelerations. Continuous exposure to these types of movement may increase the tightness of the muscles and tendons and cause muscle damage, which will affect the neural properties of the myotendinous unit, reducing the total range of motion throughout the season (Moreno- Pérez et al., 2020), increasing the risk of injury (Mason-Mackay et al., 2017) and negatively influencing sports performance (Gonzalo-Skok et al., 2015).

Although there is general agreement that the lack of ankle dorsiflexion increases the risk of lower limb injuries (Mason-Mackay et al., 2017), there is a notable difference in the evaluations utilized in various scientific articles and in the cut-off values for each test. In addition, there is no consensus on the optimal amount of mobility of this joint and how (lack of) mobility is associated with injury risk.

The tests used to assess ankle mobility can be classified into three categories:

  • Open Kinetic Chain (OCC)
  • Closed Kinetic Chain (CCC)
  • Landing mechanics

Different methods have been used to measure the results of each test, such as a goniometer, inclinometer, or analysis of digital models. In this article, we will not discuss the measurement method.

Open Kinetic Chain (OKC)

This type of evaluation is the least functional to sports activity since all the actions where ankle mobility is important are performed in closed kinetic chains (landings, changes of direction, running, etc.). Although this type of test will not provide us with any information about the control and mobility that the football player has in specific actions, it can be very useful when evaluating mobility restrictions or pain on specific structures.

In these tests, ankle dorsiflexion is evaluated with the patient sitting or lying on the treatment table. The ankle is passively dorsiflexed until the limit of movement is reached. This test should be performed first with the knee extended to assess flexibility of the gastrocnemius muscle, and then with the knee flexed at 90º to assess flexibility of the soleus. (Stovitz & Coetzee, 2004). Stovitz & Coetzee (2004) recommend testing this musculature with the subtalar joint in a neutral position while lateral force is applied to the neck of the talus and the forefoot is pushed medially (Image 1).

In this way, the foot is locked, preventing the eversion of the calcaneus, which could give a false impression of greater flexibility. Ankle dorsiflexion can be limited not only by restrictions in muscle flexibility, but also by intra-articular factors such as tightness of the talocrural posterior capsule, positional faults of the fibula, or reduced posterior glide of the talus relative to the ankle mortise (Howe, 2020).

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Image 1. OKC ankle mobility assessment. (Stovitz & Coetzee, 2004)

Several authors recommend that the range of motion in these tests should reach 20º of dorsal flexion (Brockett & Chapman, 2016) (Magee, 2014). Stiffler et al. (2014), compared range of motion values during this type of test in individuals who do not show medial knee displacement during an overhead squat compared to those who do (Image 2). Individuals with greater ankle dorsiflexion range of motion showed less medial knee displacement.

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Image 2. Range of motion in OKC tests in the study by Stiffler et al. (2014); MKD – Medial knee displacemen

Due to the significant variation among studies, it is challenging to propose cut-off values. It is essential to compare both legs and ensure the absence of unilateral deficits. There is not much reference data on this type of evaluation in soccer players.

Closed Kinetic Chain (CKC)

In comparison to OKC tests, CKC assessments provide more information about ankle joint mobility in positions similar to those that occur during sports activities. Movement deficits during this type of test have been related to movement alterations that increase the risk of injury, such as knee valgus, excessive hip adduction, or greater trunk inclination (Ivana Hanzlíková et al., 2022).

There are many variations of CKC assessment. One test that is frequently applied is the Weight Bearing Lunge Test (WBLT) or Wall Test (Image 3). In this test, the subject is placed in a lunge position facing a wall, with one leg in front of the other. From this position, the patient lunges forward until the knee touches the wall, keeping the heel on the floor. If there is contact with the wall, the foot is moved back until finding the farthest distance where the knee contacts the wall while the heel remains entirely in contact with the ground. When the limit of movement is reached, the therapist measures the distance from the wall to the tip of the big toe.

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Image 3. Weight Bearing Lunge Test or Wall test

There are variations of this test, such as the Leg Motion System Test (Moreno-Pérez et al., 2020) or the Half Kneeling Dorsiflexion Test (Gourlay et al., 2019), but they all consist of the same movement, only varying the measuring device or the position of the rear leg. 

Dill et al. (2014) suggested a cutoff value of 44.02º for this test, while other authors, such as Moreno-Pérez et al. (2020), did not specify cutoff values in their studies but indicated that differences of more than 2 cm between legs should be considered as asymmetries that increase the risk of injury. Once again, it is challenging to establish exact cutoff values for soccer players due to the wide range of results in different studies.

The Modified Weight-Bearing Lunge Test, also known as the Ankle Clearing Test (Image 4), is performed with the patient standing with one leg in front of the other. The heel of the front leg is in contact with the toes of the back leg. A dowel is given to the patient to help maintain balance. From this position, the patient moves the knee of the rear leg forward as far as possible, keeping the heel in contact with the ground. 

The therapist measures the position of the knee in relation to the medial malleolus of the ankle of the front leg: behind, in line, or beyond (Gourlay, et al., 2019). This test has been shown to be a valid tool in evaluating ankle dorsiflexion and has been compared with the values obtained in the WBLT. 

The modified WBLT score corresponds to 33.5 ± 2.0 degrees if the knee is behind the medial malleolus of the front leg, 38.6 ± 1.2 degrees if it is in line, and 43.0 ± 0.78 degrees if it is beyond (Gourlay, et al., 2019). Therefore, soccer players with adequate ankle mobility should be able to move the knee beyond the medial malleolus of the front leg.

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Image 4.
Modified Weight Bearing Lunge Test or Ankle clearing test

Image 5 shows two other ankle dorsiflexion tests. One with the knee in extension (Right, the gastrocnemius will limit the result of this test to a greater extent) and another with the knee in flexion (Left, the soleus will limit the result of this test to a greater extent).

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Image 5.
Tests variations for the measurement of ankle dorsiflexion. Knee in flexion (Front leg; Left); Knee Extension (Back Leg; Right)

López-Valenciano et al. (2019), in a study with professional soccer players, used cut-off values of <17º for the test with the knee in extension and &<34º for the test with the knee in flexion. Lower values in these tests would be considered movement restrictions, increasing the risk of lower limb injuries.

Landing Mechanics

Various types of landing mechanics assessment have been used to assess lower limb movement mechanics. To summarize, we propose three groups: Bilateral, unilateral, and jump after landing. Once again, due to the wide variety in methodology (such as jump height, measurement method, and instructions during landing), it is challenging to propose standard tests and cut-off values.

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Image 6. Unilateral and bilateral landing

One of the most used tests in research is the Landing Error Scoring System” (LESS) test. It is performed from a 30 cm high box, from which the subject jumps forward at a distance equivalent to 50% of the subject’s height. In this test, the landing is bilateral. The system utilizes a 17-item scoring method to identify athletes who are at risk of injury. It is used to assess the ankle and the entire lower limb. In a study conducted by Padua et al. (2015), an example is provided to demonstrate how this evaluation method can be applied to soccer players. You can find the details in the references.

Whitting et al. (2011), conducted a study based on single-leg drop landings from heights of 32 and 72 cm. Malloy et al. (2014) assessed landing mechanics by having participants perform a maximum vertical jump immediately after landing from a box jump, with the height of the box matching the maximum height reached in a previous vertical jump by each participant. In both studies, researchers observed altered movement patterns in participants with limited ankle mobility measured by static tests.

Conclusion
OKC evaluations can help us detect deficits in isolated structures in the early stages of rehabilitation. However, once we have corrected the deficits, we must progress to tests and exercises with more functionality (e.g. CKC tests) and ensure the player is ready for competition.
The CKC tests are a quick and effective way to assess ankle mobility and identify soccer players at higher risk of injury. This makes them a good option when planning injury prevention programs. However, there is debate about whether static assessments are useful in predicting injuries. Even if a football player has good ankle mobility, we don’t know if they use an appropriate landing strategy. There may also be other deficits that predispose the football player to a higher risk of injury, such as excessive knee valgus due to weakness of the gluteal muscles, lack of lumbopelvic control or poor ankle stiffness.
Evaluating the landing mechanics of soccer players who have suffered long-term injuries, such as to the anterior cruciate ligament, or who experience chronic pain, for example, in the Achilles tendon or patellofemoral area, can provide essential information before they finish their rehabilitation and return to train or match play.
In our upcoming blog, the last of this series, we will explore different methods to enhance ankle mobility. We will identify which structures limit the movement and which ones are weakened or inhibited and propose targeted mobilizations and exercises to improve ankle dorsiflexion.

References

Brockett, C., & Chapman, G. (2016). Biomechanics of the ankle. Orthopaedics and trauma, 30(3), 232-238.

Dill, K., Begalle, R., Frank, B., Zinder, S., & Padua, D. (2014). Altered Knee and Ankle Kinematics During Squatting in Those With Limited Weight-Bearing–Lunge Ankle Dorsiflexion Range of Motion. Journal of Athletic Training, 49(6), 723-732.

Gonzalo-Skok, O., Serna, J., Rhea, M. R., & Marin, P. J. (2015). Relationships between Functional Movement Tests and Performance Tests in Young Elite Male Basketball Players. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 10(5), 628-638.

Gourlay, J., Bullock, G., Weaver, A., Matsel, K., Kiesel, K., & Plisky, P. (2019). The Reliability and Criterion Validity of a Novel Dorsiflexion Range of Motion Screen. Athletic Training and Sports Health Care, 12(1).

Howe, L. P. (2020). Restrictions in ankle dorsiflexion range of motion and its effect on landing mechanics. Thesis, Ede Hill University.

Ivana Hanzlíková, I., Richards, J., & Hébert Losier, K. (2022). The influence of ankle dorsiflexion range of motion on unanticipated cutting kinematics. Sport Sciences for Health.

López-Valenciano, A., Ayala, F., Vera-García, F., De Ste Croix, M., Hernández, S., Ruiz, I., Cejudo, A.,  Santonja, F. (2019). Comprehensive profile of hip, knee and ankle ranges of motion in professional football players. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 59(1), 102-109.

Magee, D. (2014). Orthopedic Physical Assessment (Sixth ed.). St Louis, Missouri: Elsevier.

Malloy, P., Meinerz, C., Geiser, C., & Kipp, K. (2015). The Association of Dorsiflexion Flexibility on Landing Mechanics during a Drop Vertical Jump. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy, 23(12).

Mason-Mackay, A., Whatman, C., & Reid, D. (2017). The effect of reduced ankle dorsiflexion on lower extremity mechanics during landing: A systematic review. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20, 451–458.

Moreno-Pérez, V., Soler, A., Ansa, A., López-Samanes, Á., Madruga-Parera, M., Beato, M., & Romero-Rodríguez, D. (2020). Acute and chronic effects of competition on ankle dorsiflexion ROM in professional football players. European Journal of Sports Science, 20(1), 51-60.

Padua, D., DiStefano, L., Beutler, A., de la Motte, S., DiStefano, M., & Marshall, S. (2015). The Landing Error Scoring System as a Screening Tool for an Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury–Prevention Program in Elite-Youth Soccer Athletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 50(6), 589-595.

Stiffler, M., Pennuto, A., Smith, M., Olson, M., & Bell, D. (2014). Range of Motion, Postural Alignment, and LESS Score Differences of Those With and Without Excessive Medial Knee Displacement. Clinical journal of sport medicine: official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 25, 61-66.

Stovitz, S., & Coetzee, C. (2004). Hyperpronation and Foot Pain – Steps Toward Pain-Free Feet. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 32(8), 19-26.

Taylor, J., Wright, E., Waxman, J., Schmitz, R., Groves, J., & Shultz, S. (2021). Ankle dorsiflexion affects hip and knee biomechanics during landing. Sports health.

Whitting, J., Steele, J., McGhee, D., & Munro, B. (2011). Dorsiflexion Capacity Affects Achilles Tendon Loading during Drop Landings. MEDICINE & SCIENCE IN SPORTS & EXERCISE, 43(4), 706-713.

Ankle mobility and landing mechanics

VOETBAL MEDISCH SYMPOSIUM 2020

DE BEHANDELING VAN VOETBALBLESSURES 

PRAKTISCHE WETENSCHAP

OP DE KNVB CAMPUS IN ZEIST VINDT KOMEND JAAR OPNIEUW HET VOETBALMEDISCH SYMPOSIUM PLAATS.

HET SYMPOSIUM IS DÉ PLEK OM COLLEGA’S BINNEN HET VOETBALMEDISCHE DOMEIN TE ONTMOETEN OF KENNIS OP TE DOEN VAN GERENOMMEERDE EXPERTS. EN DIE NIEUWSTE INNOVATIES TE ZIEN OP HET GEBIED VAN VOETBALMEDISCHE EN FYSIEKE PRESTATIES.

NA VORIG JAAR DE DIAGNOSTIEK VAN VOETBALBLESSURES BELICHT TE HEBBEN, ROLT DE BAL DIT JAAR VERDER NAAR DE BEHANDELING VAN VOETBALBLESSURES. HET INHOUDELIJKE PROGRAMMA BIEDT OPNIEUW SPREKERS DIE ZICH ONDERSCHEIDEN IN ZOWEL DE DAGELIJKSE ZORG VOOR DE VOETBALLERS ALS OP WETENSCHAPPELIJK GEBIED.

Ja, ik wil mij aanmelden!

VOETBAL MEDISCHE WORKSHOP 2020

(VELD)REVALIDATIE NA EEN VOETBALBLESSURE

OP 4 MAART ZAL ER WEDEROM EEN WORKSHOP PLAATS VINDEN BIJ HET KNVB VOETBAL MEDISCH CENTRUM. 
OOK DIT JAAR BELOOFD HET EEN OCHTENDVULLEND PROGRAMMA TE ZIJN WAAR VOORNAMELIJK (SPORT)FYSIOTHERAPEUTEN HUN KENNIS MEE KUNNEN UITBREIDEN.

TIJDENS DE WORKSHOP ZAL MATT TABERNER ZIJN KENNIS EN EXPERTICE MET DE DEELNEMERS GAAN DELEN. MATT TABERNER IS EEN ERVAREN CLINICUS DIE AL JAREN EINDVERANTWOORDELIJK IS VOOR DE REVALIDATIE VAN TOPVOETBALLERS IN DE PREMIER LEAGUE. ZIJN FOCUS LIGT VOORNAMELIJK OP FYSIEKE ONTWIKKELING EN PRESTATIES. TEVENS IS HIJ DE ONTWIKKELAAR VAN HET ‘CONTROL-CHAOS CONTINUUM’.

DIT FRAMEWORK, WELKE VIJF FASES BESCHRIJFT HOE DE VELDREVALIDATIE NA EEN VOETBALBLESSURE OPGEBOUWD KAN WORDEN, STAAT CENTRAAL BINNEN DE WORKSHOP. DE THEORETISCHE ACHTERGROND,
DE TOEPASSING EN HET PRAKTISCHE ASPECT ZULLEN ALLEN AAN BOD KOMEN TIJDENS DE WORKSHOP.

JA, IK WIL MIJ AANMELDEN!

reviews

These guys are the best when it comes to style and have great attention to detail. 

Issac Newton
MODEL, FRANCE

These guys are the best when it comes to style and have great attention to detail. 

Issac Newton
MODEL, FRANCE

These guys are the best when it comes to style and have great attention to detail. 

Issac Newton
MODEL, FRANCE

Nick van der Horst

Meet the soccerdoc

Nick van der Horst behaalde zijn diploma fysiotherapie in 2007 aan de Hogeschool Utrecht. Hij werkte 10 jaar lang als sportfysiotherapeut/echografist/docent bij het Academie Instituut te Utrecht. Daarna heeft hij de overstap gemaakt naar waar zijn hart ligt, het professionele voetbal. Hij heeft twee jaar als sportfysiotherapeut en hoofd van de medische staf bij Go Ahead Eagles in Deventer gewerkt. Momenteel is is Nick werkzaam bij de KNVB. Zijn onderzoeks-activiteiten zijn gefocust op de voetbal-medische zorg. In 2017 behaalde hij zijn doctoraal na het verdedigen van zijn proefschrift ‘Prevention of hamstring injuries in male soccer’.

Blogger: Raúl Gómez
Blogger: Raúl Gómez

Football is a sport with a high incidence of knee injuries. Among them, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture occurs frequently. ACL injury can lead to significant time off the field for players as they undergo months of rehabilitation and training before being cleared to compete again. Several risk factors have been associated with ACL tears, with a particular emphasis on aspects related to thigh muscle strength, hip and trunk stability, and the player’s ability to stabilise their lower limb during movements such as landings and changes of direction. However, ankle dorsiflexion limitations are often overlooked as a risk factor, but they can profoundly impact the mechanics of movement in the entire lower limb, including muscle activation and even the positioning of the trunk. In this article, we will show why it is essential to ensure that our team players have optimal ankle mobility and use correct motor control strategies during landing.

Research has identified two biomechanical patterns associated with knee injuries: dynamic valgus of the lower limb and limited knee flexion. (Taylor, et al., 2021)(Figure 1). Although it may not seem like it, ankle dorsiflexion largely determines the outcome of these two movement patterns.

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Figure 1. Knee valgus (Left), restricted knee flexion during landing (Middle) and unrestricted knee flexion during landing (Right).

When ankle dorsiflexion movement is restricted, the ability to flex the knee during landing is limited since knee flexion must be accompanied by ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexion to maintain balance. Otherwise, the body’s center of gravity would shift backwards, and we would lose our balance and fall backwards. This lack of lower limb flexion will lead to stiffer landing techniques and changes of direction, increasing ground reaction forces (Mason-Mackay, et al., 2017) and the load on the lower limb joints (Ivana Hanzlíková, et al., 2022), especially the knee and lower back (ankle mobility deficits are usually compensated by excessive forward lean).

In addition, this stiffness and lack of flexion of the lower limb during landings is also associated with compensatory movements that increase the risk of injury. Lack of ankle dorsiflexion has been associated with increased foot and ankle pronation, greater knee abduction, and increased hip adduction (Taylor, et al., 2021)(Figure 2).
These compensatory movements cause the knee to be displaced medially (known as knee valgus), increasing the chances of sustaining ACL injuries.

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Figure 2. Flexed landing (Left) vs stiff landing (Right)

Therefore, football players with ankle mobility restrictions (widespread in players who have suffered ankle sprains) will use landing strategies with a more extended knee and greater medial knee displacement (Mason-Mackay, et al., 2017). When a hyperextended and valgus knee undergoes a sudden rotation, it reaches “the point of no return,” which often results in an ACL tear.

After each jump, landing or change of direction, the football player’s lower limb supports very high loads. Hence, mobility, strength and control of the entire kinetic chain are crucial in preventing knee injuries. The foot and the ankle are located in the distal part of this kinetic chain and will condition force transmission and movement mechanics of the entire lower limb.

It is vital to know how to assess and correct these deficits, and we must also know how to teach efficient and safe landing strategies that minimise the risk of injury. Our bodies use large muscle chains to generate movement. Any deficiency in mobility, strength, or control of any part of this chain can create movement compensations, which may increase the risk of injury and impair performance. Assessing and correcting deficits and functionally training the ankle joint should be an essential part of our training programs.

This is the first in a series of three blog posts about ankle dorsiflexion. In the next one, we’ll dive into how to assess ankle dorsiflexion mobility, and in the last one, we’ll cover how to correct and train restricted ankle mobility.

 

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References

Ivana Hanzlíková, I., Richards, J. & Hébert Losier, K., 2022. The influence of ankle dorsiflexion range of motion on unanticipated cutting kinematics. Sport Sciences for Health.

Mason-Mackaya, A., Whatmana, C. & Reidb, D., 2017. The effect of reduced ankle dorsiflexion on lower extremity mechanics during landing: A systematic review. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volumen 20, p. 451–458.

Taylor, J. y otros, 2021. Ankle dorsiflexion affects hip and knee biomechanics during landing. Sports health.

 

Hamstring injuries in football, pt 3

VOETBAL MEDISCH SYMPOSIUM 2020

DE BEHANDELING VAN VOETBALBLESSURES 

PRAKTISCHE WETENSCHAP

OP DE KNVB CAMPUS IN ZEIST VINDT KOMEND JAAR OPNIEUW HET VOETBALMEDISCH SYMPOSIUM PLAATS.

HET SYMPOSIUM IS DÉ PLEK OM COLLEGA’S BINNEN HET VOETBALMEDISCHE DOMEIN TE ONTMOETEN OF KENNIS OP TE DOEN VAN GERENOMMEERDE EXPERTS. EN DIE NIEUWSTE INNOVATIES TE ZIEN OP HET GEBIED VAN VOETBALMEDISCHE EN FYSIEKE PRESTATIES.

NA VORIG JAAR DE DIAGNOSTIEK VAN VOETBALBLESSURES BELICHT TE HEBBEN, ROLT DE BAL DIT JAAR VERDER NAAR DE BEHANDELING VAN VOETBALBLESSURES. HET INHOUDELIJKE PROGRAMMA BIEDT OPNIEUW SPREKERS DIE ZICH ONDERSCHEIDEN IN ZOWEL DE DAGELIJKSE ZORG VOOR DE VOETBALLERS ALS OP WETENSCHAPPELIJK GEBIED.

Ja, ik wil mij aanmelden!

VOETBAL MEDISCHE WORKSHOP 2020

(VELD)REVALIDATIE NA EEN VOETBALBLESSURE

OP 4 MAART ZAL ER WEDEROM EEN WORKSHOP PLAATS VINDEN BIJ HET KNVB VOETBAL MEDISCH CENTRUM. 
OOK DIT JAAR BELOOFD HET EEN OCHTENDVULLEND PROGRAMMA TE ZIJN WAAR VOORNAMELIJK (SPORT)FYSIOTHERAPEUTEN HUN KENNIS MEE KUNNEN UITBREIDEN.

TIJDENS DE WORKSHOP ZAL MATT TABERNER ZIJN KENNIS EN EXPERTICE MET DE DEELNEMERS GAAN DELEN. MATT TABERNER IS EEN ERVAREN CLINICUS DIE AL JAREN EINDVERANTWOORDELIJK IS VOOR DE REVALIDATIE VAN TOPVOETBALLERS IN DE PREMIER LEAGUE. ZIJN FOCUS LIGT VOORNAMELIJK OP FYSIEKE ONTWIKKELING EN PRESTATIES. TEVENS IS HIJ DE ONTWIKKELAAR VAN HET ‘CONTROL-CHAOS CONTINUUM’.

DIT FRAMEWORK, WELKE VIJF FASES BESCHRIJFT HOE DE VELDREVALIDATIE NA EEN VOETBALBLESSURE OPGEBOUWD KAN WORDEN, STAAT CENTRAAL BINNEN DE WORKSHOP. DE THEORETISCHE ACHTERGROND,
DE TOEPASSING EN HET PRAKTISCHE ASPECT ZULLEN ALLEN AAN BOD KOMEN TIJDENS DE WORKSHOP.

JA, IK WIL MIJ AANMELDEN!

reviews

These guys are the best when it comes to style and have great attention to detail. 

Issac Newton
MODEL, FRANCE

These guys are the best when it comes to style and have great attention to detail. 

Issac Newton
MODEL, FRANCE

These guys are the best when it comes to style and have great attention to detail. 

Issac Newton
MODEL, FRANCE

Nick van der Horst

Meet the soccerdoc

Nick van der Horst behaalde zijn diploma fysiotherapie in 2007 aan de Hogeschool Utrecht. Hij werkte 10 jaar lang als sportfysiotherapeut/echografist/docent bij het Academie Instituut te Utrecht. Daarna heeft hij de overstap gemaakt naar waar zijn hart ligt, het professionele voetbal. Hij heeft twee jaar als sportfysiotherapeut en hoofd van de medische staf bij Go Ahead Eagles in Deventer gewerkt. Momenteel is is Nick werkzaam bij de KNVB. Zijn onderzoeks-activiteiten zijn gefocust op de voetbal-medische zorg. In 2017 behaalde hij zijn doctoraal na het verdedigen van zijn proefschrift ‘Prevention of hamstring injuries in male soccer’.

Part 3: Post-injury evaluation
Blogger: Raúl Gómez
Blogger: Raúl Gómez

Before starting any training program, we must know how to assess post-injury deficits and the player’s movement. We can do hundreds of tests, but what is essential is the muscle function or movement being evaluated. We will provide several examples.

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Assessment
Pain
Pain is one of the most used criteria in injury rehabilitation protocols. During each test, we must assess pain, as well as during strength and conditioning exercises. Some research has shown significant improvements after rehabilitation protocols using pain thresholds compared to pain-free rehabilitation
(Hickey et al., 2020). However, there is still a large amount of research recommending pain-free training. We must be cautious when training athletes with movement deficits or associated injuries like low back pain.

Several rehabilitation guides recommend tenderness to palpation as one of the criteria that we must control. Aspetar Hamstring Protocol recommends recording the length and width of the area of maximum pain and the distance between it and the ischial tuberosity.

In this first phase, we can record pain in daily activities such as walking, going up and down stairs, sitting and getting up, etc.
It is also essential to record pain in each test we perform.

Strength
The hamstrings, in addition to knee flexors and hip extensors, are knee stabilisers, especially during high-intensity running. As the rehabilitation progresses,
we will progress in speed, resistance, and range of motion. Isokinetic evaluation is the most precise and used method in research, but we can also use a dynamometer or manual resistance. The latter is the fastest and most effective assessment when we want to detect painful positions, although the other two forms will give us much more precise data at the end of the rehabilitation.

 

Knee flexion – The soccer player is lying prone for the first test, with the hip extended and the knee in 90º of flexion (Image 1). In this position, the soccer player performs three maximum isometric contractions of 3 seconds each, with a few seconds of rest between repetitions (If there is pain, we must stop). If there is no pain in this position, we can progress to the next test with the knee at about 30º of flexion and then in full extension. The progression continues with the player lying supine with the hip in 90º of flexion to evaluate the force with the knee at 90º, 45º, and maximum extension (Image 1).

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Image 1. Different positions to measure knee flexion strength

Hip extension – The glute bridge exercise may be used to assess hip extension ability. Although we will see how to evaluate the hip hinge pattern later, this exercise is also very useful and can help detect movement deficits. In this exercise, it is prevalent for players to exert more effort with the uninjured leg due to pain or fear after injury. If we detect this, I recommend evaluating the hip extension strength with the Prone Hip Extension Test (Image 2), placing the resistance in the popliteal region.

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Image 2. Prone hip extension test (Schuermans, et al., 2017)

Lower limb stability – In several rehabilitation guides, evaluating the athlete’s stability and proprioception is also recommended. To begin, we can perform a Single Leg Squat to assess the stability of the lower limb and core and hip strength (Ugalde et al., 2015). If there is pain or insecurity, the test may be started by sitting on a high bench or a massage table, standing up with one leg, and returning to the starting position (Image 3).
In this test, we must evaluate if there is knee valgus or pelvic sway (Trendelenburg Sign) or if balance is lost due to instability of the upper limb.

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Image 3. Single leg Squat (Aspetar Hamstring Protocol)

If the footballer cannot perform a single leg Squat, the Trendelenburg Test may be used (Image 4 and Video 1). This test evaluates the stability of the pelvis and trunk during unilateral support (Wilshaw et al., 2020).
There is a modified version of the Trendelenburg Test that is arguably better suited for evaluating muscle function in athletes. In this test, the wall is not used as support, and the arms are free.

Deficits in trunk and pelvic control during the Modified Trendelenburg Test have been shown to be a risk factor in lower limb injuries
(Image 5), especially of the knee (Anterior cruciate ligament) (Leppänen et al., 2020).
The hamstrings play a crucial role in stabilising the knee. Deficits as a result of a hamstring injury, in combination with poor lumbopelvic control, can significantly increase the risk of suffering serious knee injuries.

Video 1. Trendelenburg Test

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Image 4. Trendelenburg gait (Gandbhir, et al., 2021)

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Image 5. Lateral pelvic hike during the standing knee lift test and proportion of subjects with knee injuries (Leppänen et al., 2020).

Range of Motion (ROM)

Hip flexion and knee extension ROM may be affected after a hamstring injury. I have chosen several tests based on different hip and knee positions to evaluate it. Each test can be performed actively or passively. In all tests, we must ensure no compensatory movement in the lumbopelvic area, especially at the end of the movement.

The Straight Leg Raise Test (Image 6A) is one of the most used tests to assess hip flexion ROM. With the patient lying supine, the leg is raised with the knee extended to the point where there is an onset of pelvic movement, or the patient feels a robust and tolerable stretch without pain (López-Valenciano et al., 2019).

The Knee Extension Test (Image 6B) also begins in a supine lying position, but now, the hip is flexed 90º, and the hands are held behind the knee. The maximum possible stretch is performed in this position following the same criteria as in the previous test (López-Valenciano et al., 2019). We can also evaluate knee extension ROM with the hip in maximum flexion as the Aspetar guide recommends. This test can also assess the maximum hip flexion angle prior to knee extension (Image 6 C).

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Thomas Test (Image 7). In this test, the athlete lies supine with the hips on the table’s edge. With both arms, one leg is held in maximum hip flexion while the other is relaxed with the hip in extension. In this test, there are several movement patterns that can provide much information. 

Restricted hip flexion (Image 7A) – This may be due to pain after an injury or muscle restrictions in the posterior musculature of the leg being held.

Restricted hip extension (Image 7B) –
The psoas is a muscle that tends to shorten and can generate anterior pelvic tilt. It is usually associated with excessive tension in the anterior thigh muscles. This shortening is also associated with gluteus maximus weakness due to reciprocal inhibition (Buckthorpe et al., 2019).

Restricted knee flexion (Image 7C) – A prevalent pattern in soccer players, big and powerful quadriceps, but shortened and under excessive tension.

Knee external rotation (Image 7D) –
One of the most common causes is excessive tension in the iliotibial band. The tensor fascia lata may be overactive due to weakness of the gluteal muscles (Selkowitz, et al., 2013).

This movement pattern is also associated with increased internal hip rotation and knee adduction, increasing the risk of knee injuries (Baker & Fredericson, 2016).

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Image 7. Thomas Test

In professional soccer players, ankle mobility deficits have been observed (López-Valenciano et al., 2019). Research has shown that myofascial connections through the whole posterior muscle chain can transmit forces through the joints (Wilke et al., 2016), in this case, at the knee (Wilke et al., 2020). Although the relationship between hamstring injuries and mobility restrictions of the ankle-joint complex has not been researched, it may be interesting to investigate this further.

Although there are several tests to evaluate ankle mobility
(Mason-Mackay et al., 2017), weight-bearing variations seem to be most representative of the function performed by the lower limb during sports activities (Powden et al., 2015). In Image 8, two tests are shown, one with a flexed knee (Image 8A) and another with an extended knee (Image 8B).

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Image 8. Ankle mobility tests (López-Valenciano et al., 2019)

Table 1 shows reference values that have been used to evaluate hip, knee, and ankle ROM.

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Lumbopelvic motor control

Pelvic control during high-intensity actions is crucial to the prevention of hamstring injuries. This is especially important for young football players.

In addition to specific motor patterns that require correct hip function, we must also evaluate lumbar stabilisation capacity when extension, flexion, rotation, and lateral flexion forces are exerted (Adelt et al., 2021).

The hip hinge is a fundamental movement pattern for the correct and effective execution of most exercises. If not performed well, the lumbar spine will compensate for the hip’s lack of mobility and strength. The Waiters Bow (Image 9A) is a test used to detect a lack of motor control during hip flexion.
This test evaluates the ability to flex the hip (50-70º) while standing in a neutral lumbar position (Luomajoki et al., 2007).
The test result will be negative if there is lumbar flexion or inability to reach at least 50º of hip flexion.

To evaluate control capacity over lateral flexion forces, we can use tests such as the modified Trendelenburg Test or the One Leg Stance Test (Meier et al., 2021) (Image 9B). The lateral displacement of the trunk in the last test should be less than 10 cm, and the difference between the right and left sides should be lower than 2 cm (Luomajoki et al., 2007).

Control over lumbar rotation can be evaluated with the crook lying test (Luomajoki et al., 2007) (Image 9C), in which abduction and external hip rotation are performed while lying supine with the knees flexed. There should be no compensatory movement of the pelvis or hip ROM deficits.

Lumbar hyperextension can cause excessive pelvic anterior tilt, increasing the risk of injury. For example, the Rocking Forwards Test (Image 9D) has been recommended to evaluate movement deficits in patients with low back pain (Meier et al., 2021). From the quadruped position, the hips are extended, and the body leans forward. As in all other tests, the result will be positive if the lumbar area is kept in a neutral position while the movement is performed.

Image 9. Lumbopelvic assessment (Luomajoki et al., 2007); A: Waiters bow; B: One leg stance test; C: Crook lying test; D: Rocking forwards Test

 

For those of you who are interested in more lumbar stability assessment, I recommend the following literature: Adelt et al. (2021), Biele et al. (2019), and the work of Stuart McGill, especially his book Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance (2004).

References

Adelt, E., Schoettker-Koeniger, T., Luedtke, K., Hall, T., & Schafer, A. (2021). Lumbar movement control in non-specific chronic low back pain: Evaluation of a direction-specific battery of tests using item response theory. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice, 55.

Aspetar. (s.f.). Aspetar Hamstring Protocol. Orthopae dic & Sports Medicine Hospital.

Baker, R., & Fredericson, M. (2016). Iliotibial band syndrome in runners. Biomechanical implications and exercise interventions. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 27, 53-77.

Biele, C., Möller, D., von Piekartz, H., Hall, T., & Ballenberger, N. (2019). Validity of increasing the number of motor control tests within a test battery for discrimination of low back pain conditions in people attending a physiotherapy clinic: a case–control study. BMJ Open, 9.

Buckthorpe, M., Stride, M., & Della Villa, F. (2019). Assessing and treating gluteus maximus weakness – A clinical commentary. The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 655-670.

Gandbhir, V., Lam, J., & Rayi, A. (2021). Trendelenburg gait. Obtenido de https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541094/

Hickey, J., Timmins, R., Maniar, N., Rio, E., Hickey, P., Pitcher, C., . . . Opar, D. (2020). Pain-free versus Pain-threshold rehabilitation following acute hamstring strain injury: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 50(2), 91-103.

Leppänen, M., Marko, R., Jari, P., Ari, H., Sami, A., Ton, K., . . . Kati, P. (2020). Altered hip control during a standing knee lift test is associated with increased risk of knee injuries. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 30(5), 922-931.

López-Valenciano, A., Ayala, F., Vera-García, F., De Ste Croix, M., Hernández, S., Ruiz, I., . . . Santonja, F. (2019). Comprehensive profile of hip, knee and ankle ranges of motion in professional football players. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 59(1), 102-109.

Luomajoki, H., Kool, J., de Bruin, E., & Airaksinen, O. (2007). Reliability of movement control tests in the lumbar spine. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 8(90).

Mason-Mackay, Whatman, C., & Reid, D. (2017). The effect of reduced ankle dorsiflexion on lower extremity mechanics during landing: A systematic review. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20, 451-458.

Mcgill, S. (2009). Ultimate back fitness and performance (Fourth ed.). Waterloo: Wabuno Publishers.

Meier, R., Emch, C., Gross-Wolf, C., Pfeiffer, F., Meichtry, A., Schmid, A., & Luomajoki, H. (2021). Sensorimotor and body perception assessments of nonspecific chronic low back pain: a cross-sectional study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 22(391).

Pollock, N., James, S., Lee, J., & Chakraverty, R. (2014). British athletics muscle injury classification: A new grading system. British Journal of Sport Medicine, 48, 1347-1351.

Powden, C., Hoch, J., & Hoch, M. (2015). Reliability and minimal detectable change of the weight-bearing lunge test: A systematic review. Manual Therapy, 20(4), 524-532.

Schuermans, J., Van Tiggelen, D., & Witvrouw, E. (2017). Prone Hip Extension Muscle Recruitment is Associated with Hamstring Injury Risk in Amateur Soccer. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 696- 706.

Selkowitz, D., Beneck, G., & Powers, C. (2013). Which Exercises Target the Gluteal Muscles While Minimizing Activation of the Tensor Fascia Lata? Electromyographic Assessment Using Fine-Wire Electrodes. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 43(2).

Ugalde, V., Brockman, C., Bailowitz, Z., & Pollard, C. (2015). Single Leg Squat Test and its relationship to dynamic knee valgus and injury risk screening. American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation(7), 229-235.

Wilke, J., Debelle, H., Tenberg, S., Dilley, A., & Maganaris, C. (2020). Ankle motion is associated with soft tissue displacement in the dorsal thigh: An in vivo investigation suggesting myofascial force transmission across the knee joint. Frontiers in Phisiology, 11(180).

Wilke, J., Krause, F., Vogt, L., & Banzer, W. (2016). What is evidence-based about myofascial chains: A systematic review. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 454-461.

Yildirim, M., Tuna, F., Kabayel, D., & Sut, N. (2018). The Cut-off values for the diagnosis of hamstring shortness and related factors. Balkan Medical Journal, 35, 388-393.

Hamstring injuries in football

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Nick van der Horst

Meet the soccerdoc

Nick van der Horst behaalde zijn diploma fysiotherapie in 2007 aan de Hogeschool Utrecht. Hij werkte 10 jaar lang als sportfysiotherapeut/echografist/docent bij het Academie Instituut te Utrecht. Daarna heeft hij de overstap gemaakt naar waar zijn hart ligt, het professionele voetbal. Hij heeft twee jaar als sportfysiotherapeut en hoofd van de medische staf bij Go Ahead Eagles in Deventer gewerkt. Momenteel is is Nick werkzaam bij de KNVB. Zijn onderzoeks-activiteiten zijn gefocust op de voetbal-medische zorg. In 2017 behaalde hij zijn doctoraal na het verdedigen van zijn proefschrift ‘Prevention of hamstring injuries in male soccer’.

Part 2: Post-injury deficits and posture
Blogger: Raúl Gómez
Blogger: Raúl Gómez

Eccentric training has been shown to be one of the most effective interventions in the rehabilitation and prevention of hamstring injuries. However, an injured muscle may not have the ability to adapt to an early eccentric stimulus and there is a risk of creating muscle imbalances that cause chronic pain or increase the risk of serious injuries such as the anterior cruciate ligament (Buckthorpe, et al., 2021). Therefore, before performing high intensity eccentric exercises with external loads, we must be sure that the football player’s movement is correct and efficient (Image 1). In this way, we will achieve optimal training adaptations and the football player will be able to return to competition with minimal risk of re-injury.

Image 1.  Incorrect exercise technique. The lumbar muscles are not in a good position (lumbar flexion) to contract efficiently during hip extension, causing increased shear forces in the spine. In addition, posterior pelvic tilt shortens the hamstring muscles, limiting the eccentric stimulus during the execution of the exercise.

Knowing the anatomy and biomechanics of the hamstrings is a great help in treating their injuries: Part 1

Muscle healing process

After injury, the muscle goes through a complex recovery process and, although in each phase we will use different tests to ensure that everything is going in the right direction, we must know the basic concepts about muscle healing. It is important to know that not only muscle fibers are damaged, but also connective and neural tissue (Bayer, et al., 2018) and blood vessels (Jarvinen, et al., 2013). During the rehabilitation process we will face problems associated with the loss of muscle function due to the damage of different tissues.

After injury, a degeneration phase of the damaged tissue occurs (This cellular process is called apoptosis) together with the formation of a new membrane that seals the muscle rupture (Jarvinen, et al., 2013) (Image 2). This phase is also accompanied by inflammation, which contributes to phagocytosis (a process in which cells ingest others) of damaged fibers and promotes the process of muscle repair and regeneration (Dueweke, et al., 2017)

Image 2. Muscle repair process (Jarvinen, et al., 2013)

Within the first week after injury, the regeneration process begins. Growth factors are released (Gharaibeh, et al., 2012) and development of new muscle cells, regeneration of myofibrils and increase of capillaries for the revascularization of the previously damaged area occurs (Jarvinen, et al., 2013).

Finally, the remodelling phase occurs, the new tissue recovers its contractile function and fuse with the scar tissue formed after injury (Jarvinen, et al., 2013).

Recovery time can vary and depends on each person and characteristics of the injury. Svensson et al. (2016) carried out a review in which they compared image characteristics with the time required before return to play (RTP). Their results showed that the length of the tear in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has a great correlation with the RTP time, the longer the length, the longer the time required for RTP. Injury to the biceps femoris (BF), presence of hematoma, proximity to the ischial tuberosity, and involvement of the proximal tendon are also factors that will increase the time required for RTP. Besides, stretch-type injuries (Askling & Saartok, 2008) and re-injuries (Valle, et al., 2017) will also need a longer rehabilitation time.

In the first phase, the main goal is the reduction of pain, inflammation and swelling (Dueweke, et al., 2017), while protecting the injured area (Hammond, et al., 2021). One of the most used methods is the RICE protocol (Rest, ice, compression and elevation), used with the aim of reducing bleeding in the injured area and, with this, reducing the hematoma, preventing further muscle retraction and reducing scar tissue (Jarvinen, et al., 2013). Some authors propose an alternative to the RICE rules by the POLICE rules (protection, optimal loading, ice, compression, and elevation), in which the early start of loading would be encouraged. Although it is still not entirely clear when rehabilitation should begin, authors as Bayer et al. (2018) has shown how an early start of rehabilitation (2 days) favors recovery and has a faster RTP than a delayed onset therapy (9 days). In addition, too long rest would impair and weaken the force transmission in the myotendinous junction, due to a reduction in its surface area because of the shortening of its folds (Rithamer & Rindom, 2021).

An early rehabilitation onset seems to be the best option for optimal muscle recovery, although we must be careful, since an excessive load and a prolongation of the inflammation time will impair recovery and increase the formation of scar tissue, which can cause problems such as muscle atrophy, loss of mobility and strength, and muscle inhibition (Bayer, et al., 2018). 

There is not much research on compression and elevation treatments for hamstring tears, although the use of these types of therapies is very common. In the same way, despite the widespread use of heat and cold therapies, I was quite surprised that most of the recommendations are based on practical experience, since there is not a large amount of research regarding this type of therapy in humans (Dueweke, et al., 2017). Even so, I have been able to find several articles in which this type of therapy has been evaluated.

In a recent review, Kwiecien & McHugh (2021) showed contradictory results regarding the use of cold in musculoskeletal injuries. On the one hand, some authors support its use arguing that cryotherapy reduces the metabolic rate and inflammation and, consequently, reduces the proliferation and magnitude of secondary damage that occurs due to cell apoptosis in damaged fibers. But on the other hand, other researchers recommend avoiding the application of cold after injury or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) since it could impair the natural healing process (which requires inflammation) and adaptations to training. Given these differences, the authors recommend using cryotherapy as soon as possible after injury, but avoiding its routine application for recovery after training, as this is likely to impair post-training muscle adaptations. The application of heat would be more advisable for the treatment of muscle soreness or joint pain and stiffness (Malanga, et al., 2015).

Cold application should be done in the first 24 hours, with the main goal of reducing intramuscular temperature for as long as possible to prevent the proliferation of secondary damage (Kwiecien & McHugh, 2021). Therefore, cold should be applied for a prolonged time during the first hours, as much as can be tolerated (Kwiecien & McHugh, 2021), but with caution so as not to cause problems such as skin burns or pain (Malanga, et al., 2015). After 24 hours, the application of cold will not have longer effect on reducing secondary damage, although it may have on reducing pain (Kwiecien & McHugh, 2021).

Post injury deficits

Although the goal of rehabilitation is to fully restore muscle function, the regenerative capacity of skeletal muscle is limited, so fibrotic tissue and scar formation will often occur (Gharaibeh, et al., 2012). This scar tissue is not elastic and can persist for months or become permanent (Fyfe, et al., 2013). This will alter muscle forces transmission and will increase strain of the tissues near the injury and the stiffness in the myotendinous junction, increasing re-injury risk (Silder, et al., 2010).

Image 3. Eccentric strength deficit during knee flexion (Buhmann, et al., 2020)

Due to the damage produced in the neural tissue, an activation of the protein degradation pathways will occur, causing muscle atrophy (Liu, et al., 2018). Moreover, denervation causes a decrease in capillaries, which leads to tissue devascularization (Bayer, et al., 2018). This lack of vascularization produces ischemic conditions in the muscle (lack of oxygen and nutritional materials in the cells due to the decrease in blood flow), which favors the formation of scar tissue and muscle dysfunction (Rithamer & Rindom, 2021) (Liu, et al., 2018).

All these changes in the muscle lead to loss of muscle function, causing deficits that, if not corrected, will cause chronic deficits and re-injuries, leaving the soccer player out of the game week after week.

Muscle strength is one of the functions that will be most affected. Several authors such as, for example, San Fillippo et al. (2013) indicate that after an injury, a protective muscular inhibition can occur that would limit the muscular forces to minimize the risk of suffering a second injury. This lack of muscle activation could be compensated by agonist muscles, creating an incorrect muscle activation pattern.

The greatest strength deficits after injury have been observed in the eccentric phase of knee flexion, together with the inability to achieve maximum muscle activation despite maximum effort (Buhmann, et al., 2020) (Image 3).

These results agree with those of many other investigations that find the same deficits, especially in positions where the knee is close to full extension, when the muscle is elongated (Sole, et al., 2011) (Maniar, et al., 2016). In this way, there is a change in the muscle strength-length relationship, with torque peaks generated in shorter muscle lengths (Fyfe, et al., 2013), which, in turn, will generate a greater deficit of strength in long length muscle positions, increasing the risk of injury.

Maniar et al. (2016), have also shown range of motion deficits after injury. Although in this article they conclude that deficits resolve in 20-50 days, in many cases these deficits become chronic. This lack of mobility, again, will create eccentric strength deficits.

The main idea is that after injury there are certain deficits that, if not resolved, can cause another injury, which consequently, will increase the deficits again, creating a vicious circle that in some cases can end up in chronic pain, muscle inhibition and atrophy. Thus, the body will create adaptations such as increased antagonistic activity or movement compensations, what will limit the injured muscle’s ability to gain eccentric strength and elongation in its fascicles (Buhmann et al., 2020) and can lead to serious injuries, either to the hamstrings or to different joints, such as the knee (Buckthorpe et al., 2021).

Maladaptations after hamstring injury (Fyfe, et al., 2013)

Image 5. Muscle atrophy factors (Lepley, et al.,2020)

Even though medical techniques are being developed to improve tissue after injury (Gharaibeh, et al., 2012) and therapies such as electromagnetic modalities already exist (Lepley, et al., 2020), physical therapy is one of the most effective tools in promoting muscle repair and regeneration. Exercise accelerates muscle healing by modulating the response of the immune system, releases growth factors, promotes vascularization, and reduces scar formation (Liu, et al., 2018). Therefore, a good planning of the rehabilitation will be key to obtain again maximum performance of the soccer player with a low risk of re-injury.

Posture

As I said in the previous post, the hamstrings are part of the posterior muscle chain (Wilke, et al., 2016) and a bad alignment of this chain will increase tension and injury risk, preventing correct adaptations to training (Due to incorrect techniques or compensations). Therefore, it is necessary to detect these deficits and work on them during strength training and soccer player’s rehabilitation.

Due to the highly repetitive nature of sport, our body will create movement patterns adapted to the actions we practice on a daily basis. This is particularly important in young people who play at top level, whose bodies are still developing, but are subjected to training loads that sometimes exceed the recovery capacity of their body. This, in the long term, can create postural disorders (especially of the spine) associated with pain and injuries (Stošić, et al., 2011).

For this reason, trainers and coaches, especially those who work with young athletes, should know how to evaluate and correct movement and posture. The development of an injury prevention plan for elite athletes should start at the youth academies, working on general motor skills and not just sport-specific skills.

Furthermore, strength training plans should be balanced between strengthening exercises and exercises aimed at improving arthro-muscular balance. For example, in most gyms, the use of pushing exercises such as push-ups or bench press is infinitely superior to pulling exercises such as rows or pull-ups, which in the long term will increase thoracic kyphosis. The same occurs with dominant knee and hip exercises, most are aimed at developing quadriceps power (Squat, leg extension, leg press …) with much less use of other exercises to strengthen the posterior chain (Deadlift, Hip Thrust, Back extension…). Considering that soccer itself already overstimulates the anterior thigh muscles, this training approach is the perfect method to create postural disorders.

Posture assessment, both static and dynamic, has aroused great interest in recent years due to the work of specialists such as Shirley Sahrmann, Gray Cook or Mike Boyle, although previously, Vladimir Janda was one of the key figures in movement-based injury rehabilitation. The main idea is that incorrect posture can affect force production quality and application and efficiency of movement, increasing the risk of suffering musculoskeletal injuries (Kritz & Cronin, 2008). In hamstring injuries, alterations in the sagittal plane are associated with the highest risk of injury.

Lower crossed syndrome

This movement syndrome, initially described by Dr. Janda and also known as pelvic crossed syndrome, is characterized by over-activation and stiffness of the thoracolumbar extensors and hip flexors, together with weakness of the abdominal and gluteal muscles (Das, et al., 2017). This movement pattern is related to increased anterior pelvic tilt, lumbar lordosis, lumbar lateral tilt, lateral leg rotation, and knee hyperextension.

Image 6. Lower crossed syndrome and anterior pelvic tilt

Several of these factors, such as anterior pelvic tilt, leg rotation (Daly, et al., 2016), and increased lumbar lordosis (Mendiguchia, et al., 2020) have been related to hamstring injuries and low back pain.

In soccer, it is a very common pattern due to the demands of high intensity running. The increased anterior pelvic tilt increases hip extension range of motion, allowing the athlete to apply force for a longer time (Kritz & Cronin, 2008), thus compensating for the lack of force of the hip extensors, usually from the gluteus maximus. A training program focused on improving hip and trunk muscles strength and motor control, along with improving hip mobility and relaxation of the lumbar extensors has been shown to be effective in improving the incorrect movement patterns of this syndrome (Mendiguchia, et al., 2020).

Upper crossed syndrome

Pelvic and spinal biomechanics are closely related (Oxland, 2016) and movement disorders in one part will affect the rest of the structures. A poor alignment of hip and lower back will affect the position of the cervical and thoracic area and vice versa. One of the most common movement deficits nowadays is thoracic hyperkyphosis with forward head and rounded shoulders. Due to the excessive use of computers and mobile phones, we maintain injurious postures for hours every day. This can create a postural disorder known as upper crossed syndrome (Image 7), defined as hyperactivity and/or stiffness of the upper trapezius, pectoralis major, and levator scapulae, combined with weakness of rhomboid, serratus anterior, middle and lower trapezius, as well as the deep cervical flexors, in particular the scalene muscles (Ranđelović, et al., 2020).

Image 7. Upper crossed syndrome (Left) (Muscolino, 2015). increased relative load due to head misalignment (Right)

This syndrome can cause neck, shoulder, or back injuries and scapular movement disorders (Ranđelović, et al., 2020). In people with forward head posture, imbalances in the activity of the neck, shoulder and back muscles have been observed during actions we perform daily. For example, Alowa & Elsayed (2021) showed a significant increase in the activity of the cervical musculature with the lifting of a weight of 5 kg in people with a forward head posture compared to people with correct alignment. In this same study, a trend towards greater activity of the thoracic and lumbar muscles was observed, although not significant.

Due to poor positioning of the head, shoulders and back, force transmission from the neck and thoracic spine will cause increased tension in the lumbar area (Rathore, et al., 2014). Consequently, the pelvis will also be affected, which might increase hamstring injury risk.

I think it is really important that we take these factors into account, not only after injury, but also in the development of preventive training and when planning a season with players of developing age. Young people grow up in an increasingly sedentary society with bad movement habits. For this reason, coaches must teach them to move well and develop a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes we are so busy dreaming of the great footballers that they are going to be in the future, that we forget to give them a solid foundation on which they can develop their abilities to the maximum.

The ability to generate power and be faster than your opponent can be key in a match, but the ability to decelerate and stabilize the body after maximum intensity action is key to both performance and injury prevention. If we want a football player to be able to use his full potential during competition, we must develop a perfect balance between his ability to generate force and his control over it.

References

Alowa, Z. & Elsayed, W., 2021. The impact of forward head posture on the electromyographic activity of the spinal muscles. Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences, 16(2), pp. 224-230.

Areia, C. y otros, 2019. Neuromuscular changes in football players with previous hamstring injury. Clinical Biomechanics, Volumen 69, pp. 115-119.

Askling, C. & Saartok, T., 2008. Proximal hamstring strains of stretching type in different sports: Injury situations, clinical and magnetic resonance imaging characteristics and return to sport. The american journal of sports medicine, 10(10).

Bayer, M. y otros, 2018. Role of tissue perfusion, muscle strength recovery, and pain in rehabilitation after acute muscle strain injury. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 28(12), p. 2579–2591.

Buckthorpe, M. y otros, 2021. Recommendations for hamstring function recovery after ACL reconstruction. Sports Medicine, Volumen 51, pp. 607-624.

Buhmann, R., Trajano, G., Kerr, G. & Shield, A., 2020. Voluntary activation and reflex responses after hamstring strain injury. Clinical Sciences, 52(9), p. 1862–1869.

Daly, C. y otros, 2016. The biomechanics of running in athletes with previous hamstring injury: A case-control study. Scadinavian Journal of medicine and science in sports, pp. 413-420.

Das, S. y otros, 2017. Prevalence of lower crossed syndrome in young adults: a cross sectional study. International Journal of Advanced Research, 5(6), pp. 2217-2228.

Dueweke, J., Awan, T. & Mendias, C., 2017. Regeneration of skeletal muscle following eccentric injury. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 26(2), pp. 171-179.

Fyfe, J., Opar, D., Williams, M. & Shield, A., 2013. The role of neuromuscular inhibition in hamstring strain injury recurrence. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, Volumen 23, p. 523–530.

Gharaibeh, B. y otros, 2012. Biological Approaches to Improve Skeletal Muscle Healing after Injury and Disease. Birth Research Research, 96(1), p. 82–94.

Hammond, K., Kneer, L. & Cicinelli, P., 2021. Rehabilitation of soft tissue injuries of the hip and pelvis. Clinics in Sport Medicine, Volumen 40, p. 409–428.

Jarvinen, T., Jarvinen, M. & Kalimo, H., 2013. Regeneration of injured skeletal muscle after the injury. Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, 3(4), pp. 337-345.

Kritz, M. & Cronin, J., 2008. Static posture assessment screen of athletes: Benefits and considerations. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 30(5), pp. 18-27.

Kwiecien, S. & McHugh, M., 2021. The cold truth: the role of cryotherapy in the treatment of injury and recovery from exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology.

Lepley, L., Davi, S., Burland, J. & Lepley, A., 2020. Muscle atrophy after ACL injury: Implications for clinical practice. Sports Health, 12(6), pp. 579-586.

Liu, J. y otros, 2018. Current methods for skeletal muscle tissue repair and regeneration. BioMed Research International, Volumen 2018.

Malanga, G., Yan, N. & Stark, J., 2015. Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury. Postgraduate Medicine, pp. 1-9.

Maniar, N. y otros, 2016. Hamstring strength and flexibility after hamstring strain injury: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sport Medicine, 50(15), pp. 909-920.

Mcgill, S., 2009. Ultimate back fitness and performance. Fourth ed. Waterloo: Wabuno Publishers.

Mendiguchia, J. y otros, 2020. Training-induced changes in anterior pelvic tilt: Potential implications for hamstring strain injuries management. Journal of Sports Sciences.

Muscolino, J., 2015. Upper crossed syndrome. Journal of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society, 21(2), pp. 80-85.

Oxland, T., 2016. Fundamental biomechanics of the spine – What we have learned in the past 25 years and future directions. Journal of Biomechanics, Volumen 49, pp. 817-832.

Ranđelović, I., Jorgić, B., Antić, V. & Hadžović, M., 2020. Effects of exercise programs on upper crossed syndrome: A systematic review. Physical Education and Sport Through the Centuries, 7(2), pp. 152-168.

Rathore, y otros, 2014. A focused review – Thoracolumbar spine: Anatomy, biomechanics and clinical significance. Indian Journal of Clinical Anatomy and Physiology, 1(1), pp. 41-48.

Rithamer, J. & Rindom, M., 2021. The Myotendinous Junction—A vulnerable companion is sports. A narrative review. Frontiers in Physiology, Volumen 12.

San Fillippo, J. y otros, 2013. Hamstring strength and morphology progression after return to sport from injury. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(3), p. 448–454.

Silder, A., Reeder, S. & Thelen, D., 2010. The influence of prior hamstring injury on lengthening muscle tissue mechanics. Journal of Biomechanics, 43(12).

Sole, G., Milosavljevic, S., Nicholson, H. & Sullivan, J., 2011. Selective strength loss and decreased muscle activity in hamstring injury. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 41(5), pp. 354-363.

Stošić, D., Milenković, S. & Živković, D., 2011. The influence of sport on the development of postural disorders in athletes. Physical Education and Sport, 9(4), pp. 375-384.

Svensson, K. y otros, 2016. The correlation between the imaging characteristics of hamstring injury and time required before returning to sports: a literature review. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 12(3), pp. 134-142.

Valle, X. y otros, 2017. Muscle injuries in sports: a new evidence-informedand expert consensus-based classification with clinical application. Sports Medicine, Volumen 47, p. 1241–1253.

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Hamstring injuries in football, an unsolved puzzle

VOETBAL MEDISCH SYMPOSIUM 2020

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Nick van der Horst

Meet the soccerdoc

Nick van der Horst behaalde zijn diploma fysiotherapie in 2007 aan de Hogeschool Utrecht. Hij werkte 10 jaar lang als sportfysiotherapeut/echografist/docent bij het Academie Instituut te Utrecht. Daarna heeft hij de overstap gemaakt naar waar zijn hart ligt, het professionele voetbal. Hij heeft twee jaar als sportfysiotherapeut en hoofd van de medische staf bij Go Ahead Eagles in Deventer gewerkt. Momenteel is is Nick werkzaam bij de KNVB. Zijn onderzoeks-activiteiten zijn gefocust op de voetbal-medische zorg. In 2017 behaalde hij zijn doctoraal na het verdedigen van zijn proefschrift ‘Prevention of hamstring injuries in male soccer’.

Part 1: Anatomy, biomechanics and injury risk factors
Blogger: Raúl Gómez
Blogger: Raúl Gómez
With the highest injury incidence in soccer, hamstring injuries cause many problems to football teams and, although research has increased greatly in recent years, it seems to be insufficient, as hamstrings injuries also continue to increase.

As example of what I just said, the research carried out by Ekstrand et al. (2016, 2022) showed an increase in hamstring injuries from the 2001/02 season to the 2021/22 (Image 1A and 1B). However, in the following image (Image 2) we can see how the number of published scientific articles has increased considerably too. In this case, I have written “Hamstring injury” in Pubmed (580 published articles in 2021).

Image 1A. Increase in hamstring injuries from 2001/02 to 2013/14 season. (Ekstrand, et al., 2016)

Image 1B. Proportion of all reported injuries that were diagnosed as hamstring injuries (top) and the proportion of all injury absence days caused by hamstring injuries (bottom) (Ekstrand et al., 2022)

Image 2.

 

What makes this muscle group so vulnerable to injury? What changes occur in players who suffer hamstring muscle tears? Why is it the most recurrent injury in soccer? I will try to solve these questions and many others but, before I start, I want to make it clear that there are no universal answers, there is no cure-all exercise and no single method that works the same for all players and teams. As sports professionals we must know how to find the best way for each person with whom we work. I hope this blog is a useful guide for sport and physical therapy professionals, but we must never forget that an injury has a multifactorial origin and we must know how to work together with other professionals such as doctors, physiotherapists or nutritionists.

Hamstrings Anatomy

The hamstring muscle complex (Image 3) is comprised of 3 muscles, semimembranosus (SM), semitendinosus (ST) and biceps femoris (BF), the latter divided into long head (BFlh) and short head (BFsh). Although I will analyse everything in much more detail below, in table 1 you can see the origin, insertion and main functions of each muscle (Rodgers & Raja, 2020).

Origin
According to Stephen et al., (2019) all the hamstring muscles originate in the ischial tuberosity (IT). ST and BFlh share origin forming a conjoint tendon that originates in the posteromedial aspect of the IT, while the SM muscle originates in the anteromedial aspect.

The BFsh is the only one that does not have a proximal attachment on the IT. Its origin is located on the lateral lip of the linea aspera, on the medial third of the femur.

Insertion
Distal attachments of all hamstring muscles are located in the knee, but with greater variation in location than in the hip. BFlh attaches using a direct and an anterior arm and different fascial connections (James, et al., 2015). The direct arm attaches on the lateral aspect of the fibular head, lateral to the styloid process and the anterior arm does it lateral to the insertion of the fibular collateral ligament on the fibular head.

Table 1. Origin, insertion and functions of hamstrings muscles. (Rodgers & Raja, 2020)

Image 3. Hamstring muscle complex

BFsh has several connections: the anteromedial side of the BFlh, posterolateral aspect of the joint capsule, capsulo-osseous layer of the iliotibial band, a lateral aponeurosis, and a direct and anterior arm which attach to the fibular head and lateral condyle of the tibia, respectively (James, et al., 2015).

The insertions of ST and SM are located on the medial side of the knee. The ST muscle joins with gracilis and sartorius forming a conjoint tendon called the pes anserinus (Image 4), which attaches to the anteromedial aspect of the proximal tibia (LaPrade, et al., 2015).

The posteromedial corner of the knee is a complex area in which the SM plays an important role, since it has several attachments and functions on the knee. Although in scientific research several connections of the distal SM tendon have been described, only in the next 3 (Image 5) there seems to be general agreement among researchers (De Maeseneer, et al., 2014): The direct arm of the SM, which attaches to the posterior aspect of the tibia, 1 cm below the joint. The anterior arm, which inserts deep to the medial collateral ligament and third, an expansion of the oblique popliteal ligament.

Apart from these connections, several more have been observed, up to 8 different expansions (Benninger & Delamarter, 2013), but not all researchers agree on them. Benninger & Delamarter (2013) observed that the oblique popliteal ligament does not really have a bony origin, but is indigenous to the semimembranosus tendon and therefore, they propose a change in terminology from ligament to tendon. This would also result in a significant clinical change due to the proprioceptive function of the tendon, which would mean a greater role of the SM in posterior knee stability.

Image 4. ST, gracilis and sartorius common insertion (LaPrade, et al., 2015)

I can’t name all the connections from each article in this post, but I recommend taking a look at the bibliography for anyone interested in hamstring anatomy.

Image 5. Figure and description reproduced from De Maeseneer et al.(2014)

Functions

During the gait cycle, they coordinate hip extension and prevent excessive extension of the knee (Stepien, et al., 2019), specifically during the late swing phase, where they perform an eccentric contraction undergoing a period of power absorption (Schache, et al., 2012).
The hamstrings also have an important function on the muscular balance of the lower limb. Its coactivation during contraction of the quadriceps femoris muscle balances the lower limb and reduces the anterior shear forces on the tibiofemoral joint preventing posterior tibial translation (Stepien, et al., 2019) and, consequently, reducing the load on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and protecting the knees with deficiencies in this ligament (Azmi, et al., 2018).
Due to its proximal origin in the IT and its connection with the sacrum via the sacrotuberous ligament, the hamstrings also perform a lumbo-pelvic stabilization function (Image 6) (Panayi, 2010), therefore, proper trunk and hip function will be a priority during the training process.

Image 6. Figures and descriptions reproduced from Panayi (2010)

Proximally, the BF influences compression of the sacroiliac joint, helping to control sacral nutation (Panayi, 2010). Distally, its contraction externally rotates tibia and fibula because of its lateral attachment on the knee joint. The BF seems to be the muscle which contributes the most providing resistance to tibial internal rotation torque and anterior shear forces at the knee. Electrical stimulation of BF reduces considerably peak value of tibial internal rotation and anterior shear force, incrementing overall knee compressive force and, consequently, reducing anterior tibial translation and peak forces in the ACL, what in theory, might increase lateral stability in ACL-deficient knees (Azmi, et al., 2018).

In the medial side of the knee, ST and SM perform an antagonistic function to the BF in the transverse plane, they rotate the tibia internally and therefore, also provide resistance to tibial external rotation (Image 7). These two muscles play a crucial role in the posteromedial stability of the knee. 

Toor, et al. (2019) carried out a study in which they dissected 8 cadaver knees to evaluate the role of the hamstring muscles in medial knee stability. To do this, they applied external forces in the 3 primary planes of movement (Sagittal, frontal and transverse) in various knee flexion positions (0º, 30º and 60º) with different load conditions in which they unloaded the force exerted by gracilis and semitendinosus individually and both in combination. 

Image 7. Tibial external rotation

The results showed that unloading the force exerted by medial hamstrings increased external rotation and anterior tibial translation at all knee flexion angles together with an increase in valgus with the knee flexed 30º, what again, highlights the importance of the hamstrings to prevent ACL injuries.

Furthermore, an effect of the hamstrings on the meniscus has also been observed, specifically the SM retracts the medial meniscus posteriorly (De Maeseneer, et al., 2014). During knee flexion the meniscus moves backward to adapt to the shape and position of the femoral condyle. Thus, the load can be uniformly transferred, and damage to the meniscus can be prevented (Chen, et al., 2014).

Mechanism of hamstring strain
Due to their anatomy and biomechanics the hamstrings are a paramount muscle group in sports that require high intensity running actions and sprints. But, as we already know, they have a high risk of injury. But how do they get injured and why so many times?

There are 2 mechanisms of hamstring injury, stretch-type and sprint-type (Danielsson, et al., 2020). Stretch-type normally occurs during an excessive hip flexion with simultaneous knee extension (Image 8) and SM proximal tendon seems to be the most affected location. This type of injury is also associated with the strain of other muscles as quadratus femoris, adductor magnus, ST and BFlh and can finish with sports careers due to chronic pain and discomfort after injury (Askling & Saartok, 2008). This type of hamstring injury is common in dancers and sports which require large range of motion movements of the lower body.
Despite in soccer this type of injury is not very common, it can also occur during kicking, slide tackles or overhead controls.

Image 8. Large hip flexion with knee extension in football actions

Injury type influences recovery time, being stretch type the one that requires longer periods. In addition, injuries located closer to the ischial tuberosity need longer recovery times too (Askling & Saartok, 2008).

Sprint-type injuries are the ones that occur the most, especially in sports such as soccer, where they can account for up to 80% of sustained hamstring injuries (Danielsson, et al., 2020). The most common location in this type of injury is the BFlh, especially in the proximal region. (Huygaerts, et al., 2020).

The hamstrings play a critical role in high intensity running. According to Morin et al. (2015), the hamstrings have a fundamental role in the production of horizontal force during the sprint. They observed that subjects with higher electromyographic activity during the final swing phase of sprint and a higher knee flexion eccentric peak torque showed a greater amount of horizontal ground reaction forces, which is related to better sprint performance.

Ishoi et al. (2019) also carried out a study on the influence of hamstring muscle peak torque and the ratio of torque development on sprint performance in soccer players. The results showed that hamstring torque production in the first 100 ms, but not from 100 ms to 200ms (Measured with dynamometer), was positively correlated to horizontal force production and maximum horizontal power production. In addition, early development of hamstring torque was related to better 30-m sprint times. But on the contrary, these authors found no association with maximum speed during sprinting.Therefore, the authors suggested that the rate of force development of the hamstrings is more important than their maximum force capacity in sprint performance.

Therefore, we can confirm the importance of this muscle group during sprinting, in which they participate by performing both hip extension and knee flexion torque to counteract the powerful movements of the hip and knee (Flexion and extension, respectively) in a very short period of time in which they can support 8 times the athlete’s body weight (Morin, et al., 2015).

This great role during sprint makes them very prone to injury due to the high eccentric load they support. Although there are some differences, most authors agree on the final phase of the swing as the moment of muscle injury, although other moments have also been observed, such as the early stance phase (Image 9).

In the final phase of the swing, the hip reaches its maximum flexion as the same time that the knee extends. After this, in preparation for foot strike, the hip starts to extend and the knee starts to flex (Kenneally-Dabrowski, et al., 2019). In this transition, the hamstrings endure great musculotendinous strain that coincides with the position of maximum elongation of the hamstrings during sprint due to simultaneous hip flexion and knee extension (Schache, et al., 2012). Therefore, hamstring muscles support high amount of negative work (Eccentric) in a short period of time, what makes them vulnerable to injury.

Image 9. The running gait cycle (Danielsson, et al., 2020)

Most researchers agree on this as the mechanism and moment of hamstring injury, but we can also find different conclusions if we continue our research.

In the review written by Kenneally-Dabrowski et al. (2019), hamstring injury mechanism during late swing and early stance was discussed. Regarding to early stance, some researchers have proposed that the greatest knee flexion and hip extension moments occur during this phase, when high opposing forces result from ground reaction forces as the foot strikes the floor (Orchard, 2012). Besides, Orchard (2012) argues that although muscle failure can occur in the final phase of the swing, this does not necessarily mean that the injury occurs at that time, but when that muscle, which has already failed, bears high loads in the early stance. This same author also suggests that muscle strains do not occur in open kinetic chain actions. He arguments that athletes performing upper limb open chain activities do not have a high muscle strain injury rate despite high-speed actions and this would also happen with the hamstrings, but there is no evidence to support this. 

Other researchers propose a period instead of two phases, the swing-stance transition period (Liu, et al., 2017). These authors suggest that the hamstrings develop force on the hip and knee throughout the whole movement to counteract both the inertia of the lower leg during the late swing and ground reaction forces in early stance. Thus, it could be considered as a single period.

Although almost all research assumes that the hamstrings perform an eccentric action during high intensity running, a few years ago Van Hooren and Bosch (2017) challenged this claim with a rather interesting theory.

According to their theory, the contractile element of the muscle (Muscular fascicles) would not perform an eccentric but isometric action, while the series elastic element (Tendons, aponeurosis and fascial and connective tissue) would elongate and then recoil in preparation for ground contact. In this case, the injury would be caused by the muscular inability to maintain the isometric action when external forces are too high, so the muscle would elongate in an eccentric contraction that could lead to injury. Furthermore, a loss of coordination in the pelvic area is also proposed as an injury mechanism, since it can increase the distance between muscle attachments, also causing an eccentric muscle action.

To explain the muscular elongation of the hamstrings during the gait cycle, they introduce the concept of “muscle slack” (Image 10), which is defined as the delay between the contraction of the muscle fibers and the beginning of the stretching of the series elastic elements. (Van Hooren & Bosch, 2016). As an example, we could compare it to how an elastic band works when we pull it. When we start to pull, it offers minimal or no resistance until it stretches. Once it has enough tension, it begins to generate force and resistance. The same would happen in the hamstring muscles, which first would be in a relaxed position until they receive the neuromuscular signal that activates muscle contraction. This would take out the muscle slack to align the muscle tendon unit to the point where the force is transmitted to the elastic elements in series.

Image 10. Images and descriptions reproduced from Van Hooren & Bosch (2016)

Therefore, hamstring lengthening during high intensity running, according to this theory, would be the result of the alignment of the musculotendinous unit, taking out the muscle slack to place the muscle close to its optimal length to generate force in an isometric action.

More evidence is needed about the latter theory, which challenges the current knowledge about mechanism of injury and biomechanical assessment models.

However, there does seem to be a general agreement on the most common location in sprint-type injuries, BFlh is the muscle with the highest number of injuries in all investigations, let’s see why.

Both architecture and biomechanics vary between muscles of synergistic groups to have a greater capacity to produce force in greater magnitude, range and speed (Kellis, 2018). For instance, BFlh and SM have greater force generation capacity due to their greater pennation angle and physiological cross-sectional area, while ST and BFsh have greater excursion capacity, since they have longer fascicles with respect to their muscle length (Kellis, 2018). But there are not only differences between muscles, but different parts of the same muscle can also vary.

Certain changes in BFlh structure make it more vulnerable to injury during high intensity running:

Tendon anatomy. Theoretically, a tendon with greater cross-sectional area has greater stiffness, while a longer tendon has greater excursion capacity. BFlh and SM have thicker proximal free tendons (Kellis, 2018) and BFlh proximal tendon has an intermediate proximal length with respect to the other two muscles (Storey, et al., 2015). Therefore, BFlh would have a high capacity to generate force, but with a lower elongation capacity compared to SM and ST. Besides, the most proximal part of BFlh is composed of tendon (Kellis, 2018), thus, force transmission will cause more strain in this part of the muscle.

Musculo-tendinous junction (MTJ). That is how the connection between a muscle and its tendon is called. It is a point of force concentration due to differences in compliance between the muscle and tendon fibers and usually muscles tears are localized in this area. Muscles with a larger junction are more effective transmitting forces and are less prone to fail (Storey, et al., 2015). ST has the smaller MTJ, but due its composition, with a tendinous intramuscular inscription (Image 11), seems to have the capacity to dissipate forces. Unlike, BFlh, with an intermediate MTJ area, does not have the same muscular composition and consequently, could have a mechanical disadvantage for forces dissipation (Storey, et al., 2015).

Muscle fibers anatomy. Proximal BFlh fascicles are less pennated and longer than distal, with the most proximal part displaying the largest mean fascicle length (Tosovic, et al., 2016). This means that the most proximal part will have the biggest elongation capacity within the muscle, but due to a less pennated angle of the muscle fibers, it will also have less capacity to elongate before experiencing a rupture (Tosovic, et al., 2016).

Aponeuroses variation. Several articles have shown that BFlh does not have a uniform architecture and its parts vary from each other. The proximal aponeurosis has been shown to be longer and narrower than the distal one. Based on computational models, Rehorn and Blemker (2010) concluded that this fact has a great influence on the stretch distribution within the muscle, so this non-uniform muscular aponeurosis architecture will cause greater strain in the MTJ on the region with the narrowest aponeurosis.

Risk factors

In every article I´ve read about hamstring injuries risks there are two factors in which there is general agreement: Age and previous hamstring injury. Older (>25) and previously injured players have higher injury risk (Heer, et al., 2019) and unfortunately, we can´t change these factors.

Many more factors have been investigated and there is still much controversy. In a recent review with meta-analysis, 179 different hamstring strain injuries associated factors were evaluated, of which 49 demonstrated evidence of this association and 18 had conflicting results (Green, et al., 2020). Logically we can´t control all of them, so we must know how to prioritize and organize our work.

As I have already said, age and previous injuries are the strongest risk factors. However, it seems that not only previous hamstring injuries, but previous knee, ankle and calf injuries have been shown to be associated too (Green, et al., 2020).

Strength have been measured with quite ambiguous results. Although hamstring muscles strength seems to play a crucial role in injury prevention and deficits are associated with hamstring strain injuries (Green, et al., 2020), evaluation methods differ a lot between each other, as well as the results and associations with hamstring injuries. Some authors point to strength imbalances as a risk factor (Heer, et al., 2019), while others suggest that only eccentric (Breno, et al., 2020) or concentric (Shalaj, et al., 2020) strength influences injury risk. 

Image 12. BF peak strain during sprinting and flexibility score (Passive Straight Leg Raise). The largest peaks during sprint are related to lower range of motions in the test. (Wan, et al., 2017)

Others simply find no relationship between strength and hamstring strain injuries (Tokutake, et al., 2018). Furthermore, used assessments and measures differ too. Dynamometers (Ishoi, et al., 2019), isokinetic devices (Breno, et al., 2020) or tests as the Nordic Hamstring Strength Test (Shalaj, et al., 2020) have been used to evaluate the strength in different articles, what makes the comparison of the results quite difficult. Despite the differences, strength training will be a fundamental part in the rehabilitation process.

Flexibility and range of motion show conflicting results too. A clear relationship between flexibility, mobility, or range of motion factors with hamstring injuries has not been demonstrated (Green, et al., 2020), but although hamstring shortening is not causally related to injury, it is to increased muscle tension in shorter ranges of motion (Wan, et al., 2017). This means that a player with shortened hamstrings will experience higher strain in a shorter range of motion during high intensity actions (Image 12).

Actually, research has already shown more powerful and less flexible football players to be at greater risk of sustaining a hamstring injury (Henderson, et al., 2010), which further supports the relationship between flexibility and injury risk.

Other important factors are those related to motor control. For example, increases in hip flexor activity increase the stretch experienced by the contralateral biceps femoris during the late swing phase (Shield & Bourne, 2018). Although more research is needed in this topic, lack of neuromuscular control of lumboabdominal muscles has been associated to increased injury risk too.

A correct functioning of the gluteal muscles is essential to protect the hamstrings (Edouard, et al., 2018). For instance, weakness or wrong activation pattern of the major glute relative to hamstrings and low back muscles in tasks as the Prone Hip Extension (Image 13), are also associated with hamstring injury risk (Schuermans, et al., 2017).

Image 13. Prone hip extension test. (Schuermans, et al., 2017)

Gluteus medium and minimum will also have a protective function, not only on the hamstrings, but also on knees, low back and lumbopelvic-hip complex (Buckthorpe, et al., 2019).

Previous injured athletes also show different kinematics during running compared to non-previously injured. Daly et al. (2016) showed an increase in anterior pelvic tilt and hip flexion during late swing and a greater knee medial rotation during early stance in athletes who had suffered hamstrings injuries in the past. Moreover, in a review from last year, Danielsson et al. showed two studies which reported that running with a forward trunk lean can increase hamstring injury risk.

Competition demands and the player´s desire to play again, can cause us to rush too much, but previous research has shown that sudden big changes in training load are related to increased injury risk (Gabbet, 2016). Wrong “Return to Play” planification could be one of the reasons for the high recurrence rate in hamstring injuries. Further, high-speed running exposure has been also associated with increased risk (Green, et al., 2020). However, players who are used to train high intensity actions show a lower injury rate, so sprint training could also provide a protective effect against injuries.

Myofascial chains


Even though everything I have written about before has focused on the behavior of the hamstrings as an isolated muscle group, this is far from the reality. Our body is not made up of isolated parts that act separately to perform the actions we need, but quite the opposite. The human body is a complex system in which all its components interact at the same time, adapting to the demands that the system, as a whole, requires or needs. Once we have restored the movement and functionality of the injured area, the athlete must adapt again to perform specific sport movements, correcting and integrating the new motor patterns that they have learned during rehabilitation.

There is a biomechanical approach related to what I just said from which we can take in many interesting ideas about injury rehabilitation and sports performance: Myofascial chains. This approach assumes that the muscles of the human body do not function as independent units but as part of a tensegrity-like, body-wide network with fascial structures acting as linking components (Wilke, et al., 2016).  Up to 11 muscle chains or myofascial meridians have been identified.

The superficial back line (Image 14) connects the hamstrings with several muscles of the posterior part of the body in a long line which runs from the frontal bone in the head to the plantar fascia (Wilke, et al., 2016). But the important fact about this connection is the force transmission between components, as movement or tension in one part will affect the others (Otoni do Carmo, et al., 2013).

Image 14. Myofascial meridians (Superficial back line is highlighted) (Wilke, et al., 2016)

Wilke and Tenberg (2020) investigated how the movement of a muscle affects fascial tissue and its transmission. They evaluated the muscular and fascial displacement of the SM muscle during passive movement of the ankle. They found a strong correlation between fascial movement and muscle displacement and also confirmed the force transmission between the gastrocnemius and the hamstrings.

Ankle mobility is an important factor in lower limb injuries prevention and, if we think about the conclusions of the research above, mobility restrictions of this joint will increase the muscular tension of the posterior chain, something that doesn’t suit well the hamstrings.

Force transmission not only occurs in adjacent muscles, but throughout the entire muscle chain. For instance, Cruz-Montecinos et al. (2015) reported a high correlation between pelvis motion and the displacement of the deep fascia of the medial gastrocnemius (Image 15), and even the influence of hamstrings flexibility on the thoracic posture during maximum trunk flexions has been recorded (Miñarro & Alacid, 2010). Although it is sometimes necessary to train certain parts of the chain in isolation to correct deficits, our work will not be complete until we achieve efficient movement of the entire muscle chain.

Image 15. Displacement of medial gastrocnemius fascia during pelvic motion. (Cruz-Montecinos, et al., 2015)

Could be then that muscle chain imbalances and misalignments cause movement deficiencies that can lead to injury?
 

In my opinion, yes, our body has a great capacity to adapt and, therefore, it will compensate for the lack of movement or strength of one part of the body with another. The problem is that these offsets will cause incorrect movement patterns which, in many cases, will lead to an injury in the weakest part of the chain, the hamstrings.


Having enough knowledge about anatomy and biomechanics of our body will help us enormously both in injury prevention and rehabilitation. Despite the increase in the number of publications and research, hamstrings injuries continue to have a high incidence in soccer players and athletes who participate in sports based on high intensity running actions. The hamstrings are still our weak point. If we want to solve the puzzle, we must first know the pieces.

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