Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538
  • Review

The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials

  1. Lars Bo Andersen3,4
  1. 1Institute of Sports Medicine Copenhagen, Bispebjerg Hospital, Copenhagen NV, Denmark
  2. 2Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Copenhagen N, Denmark
  3. 3Department of Exercise Epidemiology, Institute of Sport Sciences and Clinical Biomechanics University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  4. 4Department of Sports Medicine, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Jeppe Bo Lauersen, Institute of Sports Medicine Copenhagen, Bispebjerg Hospital, Building 8, 1. Floor, Bispebjerg Bakke 23, 2400 Copenhagen NV, Sealand 2400, Denmark; jeppelauersen{at}
  • Accepted 31 August 2013
  • Published Online First 7 October 2013


Background Physical activity is important in both prevention and treatment of many common diseases, but sports injuries can pose serious problems.

Objective To determine whether physical activity exercises can reduce sports injuries and perform stratified analyses of strength training, stretching, proprioception and combinations of these, and provide separate acute and overuse injury estimates.

Material and methods PubMed, EMBASE, Web of Science and SPORTDiscus were searched and yielded 3462 results. Two independent authors selected relevant randomised, controlled trials and quality assessments were conducted by all authors of this paper using the Cochrane collaboration domain-based quality assessment tool. Twelve studies that neglected to account for clustering effects were adjusted. Quantitative analyses were performed in STATA V.12 and sensitivity analysed by intention-to-treat. Heterogeneity (I2) and publication bias (Harbord's small-study effects) were formally tested.

Results 25 trials, including 26 610 participants with 3464 injuries, were analysed. The overall effect estimate on injury prevention was heterogeneous. Stratified exposure analyses proved no beneficial effect for stretching (RR 0.963 (0.846–1.095)), whereas studies with multiple exposures (RR 0.655 (0.520–0.826)), proprioception training (RR 0.550 (0.347–0.869)), and strength training (RR 0.315 (0.207–0.480)) showed a tendency towards increasing effect. Both acute injuries (RR 0.647 (0.502–0.836)) and overuse injuries (RR 0.527 (0.373–0.746)) could be reduced by physical activity programmes. Intention-to-treat sensitivity analyses consistently revealed even more robust effect estimates.

Conclusions Despite a few outlying studies, consistently favourable estimates were obtained for all injury prevention measures except for stretching. Strength training reduced sports injuries to less than 1/3 and overuse injuries could be almost halved.

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