Side-effects of football's cold war under microscope

The Edinburgh football calendar has remained as blank as the snow-covered Pentland Hills during the last three weekends, but players and coaches of the sport at youth and amateur level may well count that as a blessing.

Despite the footballing fraternity's eagerness to resume fixtures soon, there exists a wariness - and professional opinion - that players may be more susceptible to injury by exercising in a cold climate.

Keith Kinnaird, manager of Redhall Star, last saw his side in action in the Lothian and Edinburgh Amateur FA on November 20th. He is a former amateur footballer himself and says that his experience in the game over the past two decades has done little to alter his view that cold weather can be detrimental to a player's condition.

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"Physios 20 years ago were saying that cold weather causes problems with joints and ligaments," said Kinnaird. "Training in this sort of weather can cause groin strains and hamstring problems."

Jim Wilson, co-manager at Redhall's Premier 1 title rivals Uphall Station, played juvenile and amateur football and concurs with his counterpart to some extent. "For me, you want to run about to stay warm, but for some players, they will hide as if they don't want the ball. Cold weather definitely affects players' performance, but it's the same for both teams.

"If it's freezing, the fitter players who are not carrying any weight might struggle to keep the cold out. You also get some players who will say, 'I'm not playing today - it's too cold' or 'it's too wet'."

Wilson, though, rounded off by saying that he doesn't recognise a steeper rate of injuries sustained in the amateur game during the colder months of the season. He says further that the effects of frosty ground on a player's physical condition is difficult to measure, as matches will be postponed by a responsible match official if the ground is deemed dangerous.

Liesel Lippstreu began working as a physiotherapist on behalf of the vast range of teams at Spartans FC two years ago, and names everyone from the men's first team in the East of Scotland League to members of the girls' youth team as potential patients. She is of the belief that substitutes and those who suffer from asthma are affected most severely by the cold weather.

"I think the fact that (in good weather] they're warmer when they go onto the pitch as a substitute is good. At international level, they'll maybe have bicycles to keep warm but at this level, all they (a team's substitutes] achieve in a warm-up before the game they lose in waiting to come on. There will be more muscle strains and injuries when the muscles are colder. When muscles haven't kept warm, they aren't as flexible and pliable.

"This can be a problem, especially for the goalie, who doesn't do as much and then maybe has to run out and take a goal kick."

Lippstreu points out that a player may often try to run around more in an attempt to stay warm, but this can have an adverse effect when sprinting follows a prolonged period of the player remaining still. She also identifies respiratory ability as susceptible to suffering amid a cold climate.

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"For some who have asthma, it might be more of a problem," she says. "Cold air can cause the airways to narrow."

Rebecca Hunter, of Hunter Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic in the Marchmont area of Edinburgh, treats people from all walks of sport every day, but has not noticed among her patients a correlation between the climate and the regularity or type of injury sustained.

A keen swimmer, Hunter does point out, however, that the recent cold weather is not conducive to muscles functioning at their best.

"Some evidence would suggest that muscles don't function as well in cold weather," she says. "I'm not aware that there's a direct link between muscle tension and injury, but it's true to say that muscles have a greater ability to gain power and to contract when they function at an optimum temperature."