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Effectiveness of Conservative Interventions After Acute Hamstrings Injuries in Athletes: A Living Systematic Review.

Sports Medicine 2023 January 10
BACKGROUND: Hamstrings injuries are common in sports and the reinjury risk is high. Despite the extensive literature on hamstrings injuries, the effectiveness of the different conservative (i.e., non-surgical) interventions (i.e., modalities and doses) for the rehabilitation of athletes with acute hamstrings injuries is unclear.

OBJECTIVE: We aimed to compare the effects of different conservative interventions in time to return to sport (TRTS) and/or time to return to full training (TRFT) and reinjury-related outcomes after acute hamstrings injuries in athletes.

DATA SOURCES: We searched CINAHL, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, PubMed, Scopus, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science databases up to 1 January, 2022, complemented with manual searches, prospective citation tracking, and consultation of external experts.

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA: The eligibility criteria were multi-arm studies (randomized and non-randomized) that compared conservative treatments of acute hamstrings injuries in athletes.

DATA ANALYSIS: We summarized the characteristics of included studies and conservative interventions and analyzed data for main outcomes (TRTS, TRFT, and rate of reinjuries). The risk of bias was judged using the Cochrane tools. Quality and completeness of reporting of therapeutic exercise programs were appraised with the i-CONTENT tool and the certainty of evidence was judged using the GRADE framework. TRTS and TRFT were analyzed using mean differences and the risk of reinjury with relative risks.

RESULTS: Fourteen studies (12 randomized and two non-randomized) comprising 730 athletes (mostly men with ages between 14 and 49 years) from different sports were included. Nine randomized studies were judged at high risk and three at low risk of bias, and the two non-randomized studies were judged at critical risk of bias. Seven randomized studies compared exercise-based interventions (e.g., L-protocol vs C-protocol), one randomized study compared the use of low-level laser therapy, and three randomized and two non-randomized studies compared injections of platelet-rich plasma to placebo or no injection. These low-level laser therapy and platelet-rich plasma studies complemented their interventions with an exercise program. Only three studies were judged at low overall risk of ineffectiveness (i-CONTENT). No single intervention or combination of interventions proved superior in achieving a faster TRTS/TRFT or reducing the risk of reinjury. Only eccentric lengthening exercises showed limited evidence in allowing a shorter TRFT. The platelet-rich plasma treatment did not consistently reduce the TRFT or have any effect on the risk of new hamstrings injuries. The certainty of evidence was very low for all outcomes and comparisons.

CONCLUSIONS: Available evidence precludes the prioritization of a particular exercise-based intervention for athletes with acute hamstrings injuries, as different exercise-based interventions showed comparable effects on TRTS/TRFT and the risk of reinjuries. Available evidence also does not support the use of platelet-rich plasma or low-level laser therapy in clinical practice. The currently available literature is limited because of the risk of bias, risk of ineffectiveness of exercise protocols (as assessed with the i-CONTENT), and the lack of comparability across existing studies.


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