The NFL wants to slash hamstring injuries. It turned to ACU’s David Opar

A country as innovative as the USA doesn't expect to receive cutting-edge advice in slashing soft tissue injuries in its NFL from halfway across the world yet leading ACU hamstring expert David Opar is doing just that.

Dr David Opar, director of ACU’s Sports Performance, Recovery, Injury and New Technologies Research Centre (SPRINT), is the only Australian-based practitioner working with dozens of medical staff and performance coaches on the NFL’s Lower Extremity Soft Tissue Injury Task Force.

Created two years ago by the League and the NFL Players Association, the group collect and analyse data on hamstring and adductor injuries.

Now, as the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off, Dr Opar’s ground-breaking research could help the NFL execute its ambitious target to slash costly hamstring injuries.

Regarded as world leaders in sport science and hamstring injuries, Dr Opar and the SPRINT team use an evidence-based approach to work towards the design of predictive models to help practitioners reduce hamstring injuries and manage their rehabilitation.

SPRINT’s multi-faceted approach has influenced practice at Australia’s AFL clubs who surrender the equivalent of a player’s salary each year in games lost to hamstring strains.

And the NFL, looking to combat one of its most common and costly injuries, has taken notice as it works to reduce the burden of treatment and prevention.

In search of trends, Dr Opar and taskforce members are trying to shed light on who’s most at risk, the factors driving injury and how they are being injured.  

“The NFL’s on a quest to substantially reduce the burden of hamstring injuries and they’re on the track to doing that,” Dr Opar said.

“Every player’s risk profile is going to be different and the taskforce will be in a position to answer a lot of those questions around factors influencing injury. In two to three years the infrastructure will be in place to have an amazing data set to support further study.

“The taskforce has grown into a big group and I’m not aware of anything else as wide reaching and ambitious in terms of soft tissue injuries.”

While there is no promise of a magic bullet to prevent hamstring tears, the taskforce benefits from cooperation from all the clubs to standardise and centralise data streams.

Director of Rehabilitation for the New York Football Giants Leigh Weiss said the taskforce brings together the world’s best and brightest.

“We have all these different projects we’re working on, and we have the expertise in all these different areas which is what makes us unique,” he said.

“We know the burden of injury is very high, so we’re kind of formalizing some research questions, we’re identifying gaps in some of the current data, and we’re really trying to get our heads around why these injuries are occurring and what steps can we take to prevent them.”

While any solutions may not impact in the short term on those in contention for the NFL Draft in Cleveland, there is momentum towards better information and education around load management, recovery, hydration, and athlete tracking.

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