`In search of lost time`: Identifying the causative role of cumulative competition load and competition time-loss in professional tennis using a structural nested mean model

Injury prevention is critical to the achievement of peak performance in elite sport. For professional tennis players, the topic of injury prevention has gained even greater importance in recent years as multiple of the best male players have been sidelined owing to injury. Identifying potential causative factors of injury is essential for the development of effective prevention strategies, yet such research is hampered by incomplete data, the complexity of injury etiology, and observational study biases. The present study attempts to address these challenges by focusing on competition load and time-loss to competition—a completely observable risk factor and outcome—and using a structural nested mean model (SNMM) to identify the potential causal role of cumulative competition load on the risk of time-loss. Using inverse probability of treatment weights to balance exposure histories with respect to player ability, past injury, and consecutive competition weeks at each time point; the SNMM analysis of 389 professional male players and 55,773 weeks of competition found that total load significantly increases the risk of time-loss (HR = 1.05 per 1,000 games of additional load 95% CI 1.01-1.10) and this effect becomes magnified with age. Standard regression showed a protective effect of load, highlighting the value of more robust causal methods in the study of dynamic exposures and injury in sport and the need for further applications of these methods for understanding how time-loss and injuries of elite athletes might be prevented in the future.
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Subjects: tennis prevention injury damage load load volume
Notations: sport games biological and medical sciences
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0231568
Published in: PLOS ONE
Published: 2020
Volume: 15
Issue: 4
Pages: e0231568
Document types: article
Language: English
Level: advanced