Preparticipation medical evaluation in professional sport in the UK

Professional sports clubs do not run regular comprehensive health checks on their players, finds research published ahead of print in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The findings are based on survey results from 65 professional clubs, covering football (premiership and championship), rugby (union and league), and County cricket.

Unlike some types of employment, sports clubs are not legally obliged as employers to carry out health checks on their players, despite the higher potential risks of injury.

But it is recommended that these checks should be carried out before employment, before the season starts, and after any injury (preparticipation medical evaluation).

The recommendations stipulate that the checks should include examinations of cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, and musculoskeletal systems, and that a general medical history should be taken.

The results from this study showed that almost nine out of 10 of the professional football clubs and over half of rugby union premiership clubs surveyed took pre-employment medical histories but less than half of the cricket and rugby union division 1 clubs did so.

Fewer rugby union and cricket clubs recorded before employment whether a player had a history of concussion than did football clubs.

While most football and rugby union clubs carried out cardiovascular and neurological assessments of players before employment, fewer than one in four clubs, overall, carried out neurological assessments at this stage.

And fewer than 40% of rugby union division 1 clubs and cricket clubs screened players for cardiovascular health before employment, despite the risks of sudden death among players of high intensity sports who have undiagnosed heart conditions.

Only rugby league and rugby union clubs carried out neurological tests before the season started.

Lack of resources is often cited as a reason for not carrying out health checks of athletes, but the authors conclude that this is not a sustainable argument within professional sport.

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