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James and the biomechanical link to injuries

Real Madrid v Sevilla - Copa del Rey: Round of 16 First Leg Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

It’s looking as though James Rodriguez is suffering with his calf problems in the same way Gareth Bale did last season when he was also troubled with injuries to the soleus muscle. We’re seeing a lot of these injuries at the moment. In addition to Gareth Bale we also had Raphaël Varane out with a similar injury towards the end of last season. This year started with Lucas Vázquez and Pepe both nursing calf injuries; but for James it appears to be a recurrence of a previous strain picked up in early October.

In James’ case, former Colombian national team doctor Hector Fábio Cruz believes he knows the answer. The doctor was quoted last week as saying the boots that James wears might be contributing to his injuries; and that from a biomechanical aspect, James needs to review his choice of footwear.

We’ve discussed soleus muscle injuries at length in these columns before; and there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that they are difficult injuries to treat. In the early stages they tend to present as a niggling cramp-type of injury as opposed to a sharp pull. This initially appears to pass off quickly; but then recurs with a vengeance as the calf muscles are further stressed and it soon reaches the point where running becomes impossible.

Armfield et al, (2006) state the characteristics of a soleus muscle injury are illustrated by a gradual feeling of an underlying niggle that develops over time; and like most injuries to the deeper-lying muscles can easily be mistaken for muscular tightness or cramp. Dixon (2009) describes the symptoms of a soleus muscle strain as low level initially, progressive, difficult to isolate and often showing no actual definitive site of injury in the early stages.

Although we’ve covered this before, it still doesn’t mean that they’re easy to prevent and the fact that James is now suffering illustrates just that.

Perhaps the most important aspect of injury management at the moment is in avoiding recurrences. It seems that Zinedine Zidane doesn’t want to rush players back after injury and that’s a bonus.

Injury prevention is such a big part of sports medicine today that there’s far more time and effort put into this now at club level than ever before; but you’re never going to be able to fully avoid injuries - at any level.

Although we’ve all embraced preventative strategies, if the solution was so simple then these injuries just wouldn’t happen. However, in the real world players get injured and we have to deal with it.

There’s no doubt that the Colombian doctor makes a valid point in referring to biomechanical factors as a potential source of injury, though. With regards to James’ choice of boots it might not be as quite as straight-forward as the doctor is saying; but footwear can certainly have an influence on biomechanics and that’s why finding the right type of boot becomes so important.

Although everybody sees the type of boots the players wear in the games, it’s just as important that their training boots are the right sort since training hours easily outnumber match hours and we don’t know if James’ wears a different kind for training and playing. There’s also the playing surface to consider with ground and weather conditions variable, particularly in the European competitions with Real Madrid and also when he’s away with Colombia.

When all of these are added up there are a lot of factors to consider and it may well be that his boots are perfect but his running gait isn’t. If that’s the case then James’ biomechanics may be having an influence on his running style and potential injury susceptibility.

This won’t have gone unnoticed by the medical people in Madrid who see him every day and I’m sure it’s an option that will already have been considered.


Armfield DR, Kim DH, Towers JD, Bradley JP, Robertson DD (2006). Sports-related muscle injury in the lower extremity. Clinics in Sports Medicine. Vol. 25; 803 – 842.

Dixon JB (2009). Gastrocnemius v Soleus strain: how to differentiate and deal with calf muscle injuries. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. Vol. 2 (2): 74 – 77.

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