Background Athletics is one of the most popular global sports, but also one of the most demanding with regard to human physical capacities. There are few prospective epidemiological studies available on athletic injury in populations of élite athletes.
Objective To describe annual injury incidence rates among adult and youth elite athletics athletes.
Design Prospective cohort study using web-based data collection.
Setting Swedish élite youth (U17) and adult athletics athletes. Data were collected between March 2009 and March 2010.
Participants 293 youth and adult athletes (97%) responded regularly to web-based questionnaires from an eligible study population of 301 athletes.
Assessment of risk factors Athlete's sex, age, event group, and athletics activity were assessed as risk factors.
Main outcome measures Annual incidence of musculoskeletal injuries causing partial or complete absence from practice and competition.
Results The overall annual injury incidence among the participating athletes was 76%. There were no statistically significant differences in annual injury incidence between adult male (81%) and female (76%) or youth male (77%) and female (71%) athletes. Neither was there any statistically significant differences in annual injury incidence between the event groups (Throw 75%; Jump 78%; Multi-event 65%; Middle and long distance running 79%; Sprint 76%). 80% of the injuries occurred during practice and the remaining during competitions.
Conclusion Only one out of four Swedish élite athletic athletes are able to complete a season without sustaining at least one performance-limiting injury. The vast majority of the injuries are sustained during practice. There is an urgent need for prospective studies of risk factors related to practices regimes that can be used to inform injury prevention programs in athletics.