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Preparticipation medical evaluation in professional sport in the UK: theory or practice?


Objective: To determine the level of pre-employment, pre-season, and post-injury medical evaluation of players undertaken within UK professional team sports.

Design: A postal, whole population survey.

Setting: Elite professional sports teams in England.

Population: Six groups comprising the following clubs: professional football (Premiership, 15 of 20; Championship, 22 of 24), rugby union (Premiership, 9 of 12; Division 1, 11 of 14), rugby league (Super League, 6 of 11) and cricket (County, 12 of 18).

Main outcome measures: Number (percentage) of clubs recording players’ medical history and undertaking medical examinations of players’ cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, and musculoskeletal systems at pre-employment, pre-season and post-injury.

Results: The overall response to the survey was 74%, with a range from 55% to 92% among groups. Almost 90% of football (Premiership and Championship) and rugby union (Premiership) clubs took a pre-employment history of players’ general health, cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, and musculoskeletal systems, but fewer than 50% of cricket and rugby union (Division 1) clubs recorded a history. The majority of football (Premiership and Championship) and rugby union (Premiership) clubs implemented both cardiovascular and musculoskeletal examinations of players before employment. Fewer than 25% of clubs in any of the groups implemented neurological examinations of players at pre-employment, although 100% of rugby union (Premiership) and rugby league clubs implemented neurological testing during pre-season.

Conclusions: None of the sports implemented best practice guidelines for the preparticipation evaluation of players at all stages of their employment. Departures from best practice guidelines and differences in practices between clubs within the same sport leave club physicians vulnerable if their players sustain injuries or ill health conditions that could have been identified and avoided through the implementation of a preparticipation examination.

  • preparticipation evaluation
  • professional sport
  • risk factors for injury
  • medical risk factors

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