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Towards new analytical horizons: Simulating running injury development

RUNSAFE and their Australian collaborators, with Adam Hulme in front, has produced the first sports injury article using sophisticated computational models that can account for the complex nature of sports injury aetiology.

24.06.2018 | Rasmus Østergaard Nielsen

For many years, traditional regression-based models have dominated the analytical strategy in the sports injury domain. Importantly, we should keep these regression models but also have our eyes open to supplementary methods that has potential. Agent-based modelling is a new approach in sports injury science and the recent publication in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows its potential.


There have been recent calls for the application of the complex systems approach in sports injury research. However, beyond theoretical description and static models of complexity, little progress has been made towards formalising this approach in way that is practical to sports injury scientists and clinicians. Therefore, our objective was to use a computational modelling method and develop a dynamic simulation in sports injury research.


Agent-based modelling (ABM) was used to model the occurrence of sports injury in a synthetic athlete population. The ABM was developed based on sports injury causal frameworks and was applied in the context of distance running-related injury (RRI). Using the acute:chronic workload ratio (ACWR), we simulated the dynamic relationship between changes in weekly running distance and RRI through the manipulation of various 'athlete management tools'.


The findings confirmed that building weekly running distances over time, even within the reported ACWR 'sweet spot', will eventually result in RRI as athletes reach and surpass their individual physical workload limits. Introducing training-related error into the simulation and the modelling of a 'hard ceiling' dynamic resulted in a higher RRI incidence proportion across the population at higher absolute workloads.


The presented simulation offers a practical starting point to further apply more sophisticated computational models that can account for the complex nature of sports injury aetiology. Alongside traditional forms of scientific inquiry, the use of ABM and other simulation-based techniques could be considered as a complementary and alternative methodological approach in sports injury research.


Hulme A., Thompson J., Nielsen RO, Read GJM, Salmon PM. Towards a complex systems approach in sports injury research: simulating running-related injury development with agent-based modelling. Br J Sports Med. 2018: In press.


The article can be downloaded for free HERE.

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