After suffering an injury, professional football players face a lower risk of becoming injured again if they complete more training sessions before their first match.
Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden looked at data on 303,637 matches among UEFA Champions League teams, including 4,805 matches involving players returning to the field after moderate-to-severe injuries that took them out of the game for at least eight days.
They found that injury rates were 87% higher during players' first match after returning from injury than they were for typical matches during the season, Reuters Health reports.
However, the odds of injury dropped by 7% with each practice session before the first match.
"While we can't say anything about the content of those training sessions, our data suggests that if they complete six training sessions after they have been cleared by the medical team to fully participate in all team activities but before they play a game, the risk of injury in that game is only marginally higher than the average risk in matches," explained Hakan Bengtsson, lead author of the study and a physiotherapist with the Football Research Group at Linköping University.
Players should make sure they undertake full team training before returning to competition, Bengtsson told Reuters.
"When the player returns to full team training it will be more similar to actual game play and thus full team training offers a better environment for the athlete to build tolerance to what he will be exposed to in matches," he said.
The findings have been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.