NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Soccer matches played at a high level of competition are more likely to result in injuries - and in more serious ones - compared to less important games, according to a new study.
The finding makes sense, according to Håkan Bengtsson, who led the research, because prestigious games are likely to be "higher intensity and (result in) more situations with higher risks."
Bengtsson, a physiotherapist at Linköping University in Sweden, said previous studies have shown differences in how athletes play depending on the type of match, "but how that relates to injuries has not been studied before."
He and his colleagues used an injury database from the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which includes 26 professional soccer teams from 10 countries.
From 2001 to 2010, athletes sustained 2,738 injuries in 6,010 soccer games.
Moderate or severe injuries, which required more than one week of absence from play, were more likely at UEFA Champions League games - the most important tournament in European soccer - than at regular league games.
For instance, championship matches had a 57 percent increased risk of two or more injuries over league games.
This meant there were 33 injuries for every 100 Champions League games compared to 24 injuries per 100 league matches, according to Bengtsson.
Greater risk taking in high-stakes matches might explain the results, but "it's also possible that the importance of a competition may influence a team's willingness to let players with minor, not fully rehabilitated injuries play," Bengtsson and his colleagues write in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
The researchers also found a difference in players' injury risk depending on whether a match resulted in a win or a loss for their team and whether it was played at home or away.
For instance, games that ended in a tie or a loss for a given team were 66 percent more likely to have two or more moderate or severe injuries to that team's players than matches the team won.
The study cannot determine the reason for the link.
"It could be expected that if you have two injuries it could have a big impact on how you perform in the match," Bengtsson told Reuters Health.
It's also possible that in games when a team is more likely to lose, players might take greater risks and end up with an injury.
Any explanation at this point "is pure speculation," said Chris Carling, a sports scientist at Lille Football Club in France, who was not involved in the study.
Carling said it would be useful to have reports from the players after matches to help understand what might have contributed to the injuries.
Curiously, home games had a higher likelihood of two or more injuries than away games.
For all types of injuries, away games were about a third less likely to include two or more injuries.
Away games, because of travel and unfamiliar environments, would have been expected to result in more injuries, said Bengtsson.
"That's a tough one to explain," he said.
Bengtsson said he hopes his results will be used to help inform soccer clubs about the extra risks in certain matches, and to involve medical teams in working to prevent them.
SOURCE: bit.ly/17PGppb American Journal of Sports Medicine, online April 30, 2013.