Exercise-training programmes have reduced lower limb injuries in trials, but their population-level effectiveness has not been reported in implementation trials. This study aimed to demonstrate that routinely collected hospital data can be used to evaluate population-level programme effectiveness.
A controlled ecological design was used to evaluate the effect of FootyFirst, an exercise-training programme, on the number of hospital-treated lower limb injuries sustained by males aged 16–50 years while participating in community-level Australian Football. FootyFirst was implemented with ‘support’ (FootyFirst+S) or ‘without support’ (FootyFirst+NS) in different geographic regions of Victoria, Australia: 22 clubs in region 1: FootyFirst+S in 2012/2013; 25 clubs in region 2: FootyFirst+NS in 2012/2013; 31 clubs region 3: control in 2012, FootyFirst+S in 2013. Interrupted time-series analysis compared injury counts across regions and against trends in the rest of Victoria.
After 1 year of FootyFirst+S, there was a non-statistically significant decline in the number of lower limb injuries in region 1 (2012) and region 3 (2013); this was not maintained after 2 years in region 1. Compared with before FootyFirst in 2006–2011, injury count changes at the end of 2013 were: region 1: 20.0% reduction (after 2 years support); region 2: 21.5% increase (after 2 years without support); region 3: 21.8% increase (after first year no programme, second year programme with support); rest of Victoria: 12.6% increase.
Ecological analyses using routinely collected hospital data show promise as the basis of population-level programme evaluation. The implementation and sustainability of sports injury prevention programmes at the population-level remains challenging.