Text messaging effective in tracking recreational sports injuries

Text messaging is a quick and effective way to get recreational athletes to report injuries, according to a new Australian study.

Playing recreational sports is a good way to get more exercise, researchers said. But little is known about injuries at that level.

What's more, injury prevention strategies that work at the elite level aren't necessarily relevant to recreational leagues - which have different types of players, different training loads and a different style of play, according to the study's lead author.

"Despite making up the broad base of sports participation, community level sport has largely been neglected in much of sports medicine research," Christina Ekegren told Reuters Health in an email. She is a doctoral candidate at Monash University in Melbourne.

In order to move this research forward, Ekegren and her colleagues wanted to find out if text messaging could be used to gather information on sports injuries at the community level.

They recruited 139 football players from four Australian community clubs at the beginning of the 2012 season. The researchers sent texts to players a day or two after each weekly match, asking if the player had suffered any new injuries. If he responded yes, the researchers called him and recorded the details of the injury.

During the 18-week season, the researchers sent out 2,516 text messages. A total of 171 injuries were reported by 92 football players.

Almost half of players responded within five minutes after receiving the texts, the researchers reported in Injury Prevention.

"We had an excellent response rate from players of 90-98 percent across the football season and the text responses came in really fast," Ekegren said.

She said the text messaging enabled her team to get accurate data on injuries. This, in turn, will lead to the development of injury prevention strategies more applicable to community sports participants, she said.

"The strength of these findings is that they had extremely high response rates over the 18 weeks, and this kind of speaks to simple text programs," Dr. Brian Suffoletto told Reuters Health.

Suffoletto, from the University of Pittsburgh, was not involved in the new study but has researched text messaging and emergency medicine.

"The greatest weakness is that the program still involved a high level of human interaction, so all the prompts resulted in human phone calls. So it's not truly a completely automated system, and the authors recognize this," he said.

Suffoletto said text messaging is ideally suited to surveying large populations and collecting real-time reporting data.

"If you're going to argue for real-time surveillance, the argument naturally is that you would want to have real-time interventions to prevent further injuries. Those have not been totally developed, but they're in the early stages," Suffoletto said.

Text messaging might seem a bit simplistic compared to more impressive and complicated smartphone apps, but he said it's perfect because there's no need to download anything.

"The use of text messaging for injury reporting is still in its infancy but there is great scope to expand its use," Ekegren said.

"Considering the lack of personnel and resources for tracking injuries in community sport and owing to the ubiquity of mobile phones, texting has the potential to be convenient for both players and researchers and may represent a feasible option for future research and injury tracking," she said.