Translating theory into practice (and practice into theory) – does context influence sports injury prevention research?
Background Sports injury prevention research, like many other fields, has difficulty translating research-based evidence into real-world practice. The ubiquitous theory-practice gap, historically portrayed as a ‘one-way’ knowledge-transfer issue, has recently been reconceptualised as a knowledge-production problem, suggesting a mismatch between the reductionist sense-making strategies which researchers and ‘real-world’ practitioners adopt to deal with the complexities of change, choice, communication, and culture. Sport, injury, prevention and research are dynamic, ecological phenomena occurring within socially-constructed communities of practice. Contextual factors influence the adoption of evidence-based recommendations in real-world settings, but do the theories that underpin sports injury prevention research practice take context into account?
Objective This paper will explore the role of context in the theories commonly used to inform sports injury prevention research practice.
Design Peer-reviewed literature and major reference texts were searched to identify the theories and models most commonly cited and recommended for application in sports injury prevention research. The theory-practice gap literature from a range of other fields was also reviewed. The ‘contextual content’ of the theories used to inform sports injury prevention research was compared and contrasted with a number of contextual dimensions identified as consistent barriers to translation of evidence into practice in trans-disciplinary perspectives.
Results The theories most commonly cited by sports injury prevention researchers include behavioural, ecological and social dimensions that do reflect an understanding of the need to consider ‘context’ when trying to understand how to prevent sports injuries.
Conclusion Although contextual elements are incorporated in the theories frequently cited by sports injury prevention researchers, lack of contextual ‘fit’ is still considered the major barrier to translating research knowledge into real-world practice. Is the ‘translation gap’ in the research process a problem of theory use or theory utility?