Bridging the gap between content and context: establishing expert consensus on the content of an exercise training program to prevent lower-limb injuries

Alex Donaldson, Jill Cook, Belinda Gabbe, David G Lloyd, Warren Young, Caroline F Finch
Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 2015, 25 (3): 221-9

OBJECTIVE: To achieve expert consensus on the content of an exercise training program (known as FootyFirst) to prevent lower-limb injuries.

DESIGN: Three-round online Delphi consultation process.

SETTING: Community Australian Football (AF).

PARTICIPANTS: Members of the Australian Football Leagues' Medical Officers (n = 94), physiotherapists (n = 50), and Sports Science (n = 19) Associations were invited to participate through e-mail. Five people with more general expertise in sports-related lower-limb injury prevention were also invited to participate.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome measure was the level of agreement on the appropriateness of the proposed exercises and progressions for inclusion in FootyFirst. Consensus was reached when ≥75% of experts who responded to each item agreed and strongly agreed, or disagreed and strongly disagreed, that an exercise or its progressions were appropriate to include in FootyFirst.

RESULTS: Fifty-five experts participated in at least 1 Delphi round. In round 1, consensus was achieved that the proposed warm-up (run through and dynamic stretches) and the exercises and progressions for hamstring strength and for balance, landing, and changing direction were appropriate to include in FootyFirst. There was also consensus in round 1 that progressions for hip/core strength should be included in FootyFirst. Consensus was reached in round 2 that the revised groin strength and hip strength exercises should be included in FootyFirst. Consensus was reached for the progression of the groin strength exercises in round 3.

CONCLUSIONS: The formal consensus development process has resulted in an evidence-informed, researcher-developed, exercise-based sports injury prevention program that is expert endorsed and specific to the context of AF.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Lower-limb injuries are common in running, kicking, and contact sports like AF. These injuries are often costly to treat, and many have high rates of recurrence, making them challenging to treat clinically. Reducing these injuries is a high priority for players, teams, and medical staff. Exercise programs provide a method for primary prevention of lower-limb injuries, but they have to be evidence based, have currency with sports practitioners/clinicians, and utility for the context in which they are to be used. However, the comprehensive methods and clinical engagement processes used to develop injury prevention exercise programs have not previously been described in detail. This study describes the results of engaging clinicians and sport scientists in the development of a lower-limb sports injury prevention program for community AF, enabling the development of a program that is both evidence informed and considerate of expert clinical opinion.

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