Background There are limited data on the nature, type and incidence of illness in football. Previous studies indicate that gastrointestinal and respiratory tract illnesses are most common.
Aim To describe the incidence and burden of illness in male professional football.
Methods Over the 4-year study period, 2011–2014, 73 professional football teams in Europe participated, with a total of 1 261 367 player-days recorded. All time-loss illnesses were recorded by the medical staff of each club. A recordable illness episode was any physical or psychological symptom (not related to injury) that resulted in the player being unable to participate fully in training or match play.
Results A total of 1914 illness episodes were recorded. The illness incidence was 1.5 per 1000 player-days, meaning that, on average, a player experienced an illness episode every second season, with a median of 3 days absence per illness episode. Severe illness (absence >4 weeks) constituted 2% of all illnesses. Respiratory tract illness was the most common (58%), followed by gastrointestinal illness (38%). Respiratory tract illness, gastrointestinal illness and cardiovascular illness caused the highest illness burden.
Conclusions The illness incidence among male professional football players is low compared with the injury incidence. We found that the highest illness burden was caused by illness to the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular system.
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