Examining career-ending injuries in fast bowlers

Pete Alway and Laura Keylock, PhD researchers in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, are working with the England and Wales Cricket Board to investigate the link between fast bowling and potentially career-ending back injuries.

two people standing in the cricket nets next to the wicket

Pete’s research involves elite fast bowlers from male and female Senior, Lions and Under-19 England squads. The study aims to understand how the lumbar spine develops in fast bowlers to provide the optimal bone strength to withstand the demands of international cricket, as well as the interrelationships between factors which may cause lumbar stress fracture.

The most severe injury suffered by fast bowlers is lumbar stress fracture, affecting more than a quarter of elite fast bowlers, much more than in any other sports, and compared to only 6% of the general population.

Pete Alway PhD researcher in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Players can spend an average of 239 days rehabilitating and lumbar stress fractures can end careers. Not all of these can be prevented though – some players are genetically susceptible to them. However, through modification of workload, bowling technique, bone loading and muscle strength, endurance and flexibility, the chances of getting a stress fracture can be reduced.

Laura meanwhile, is focusing on younger players, examining fast bowlers aged between 14 and 17 from county academies and local schools to give an insight into how lower back issues effect junior cricketers.

Data for both studies have been gathered in a variety of ways. Bone mineral density and content are assessed using DXA scans, whilst MRI is used to identify bone stress, stress fractures and paraspinal muscle size. Bowling technique is investigated using 3D motion analysis and bowling workload and injury data are collected through England cricket physiotherapists.

Laura and Pete’s research aims to reduce lumbar stress fracture injuries in cricket and have an influence on national bowling guidelines for junior and elite players.