To analyse injuries of water polo players reported during four Summer Olympic Games (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016) and four Federation Internationale de Natation World Championships (2009, 2013, 2015, 2017).
Injuries during training and matches were reported daily by the team physicians and the local medical staff at the sports venues using an established surveillance system.
A total of 381 injuries were reported, equivalent to 14.1 injuries per 100 players (95% CI ±1.42). The most frequent diagnoses were laceration (12.7%) and contusion (10.9%) of head, followed by (sub-)luxation/sprain of hand (9.5%) and contusion of trunk (6.5%) or hand (6.2%). More than half of the injuries (57.0%) occurred due to contact with another player. A quarter of the injuries (25.4%) were expected to result in absence from training or match; 10 (2.9%) resulted in an estimated time-loss of 3 or more weeks. About three-quarters of injuries (75.6%) occurred during matches, 86 during training. The incidence of match injuries was on average 56.2 injuries per 1000 match hours (95% CI ±6.74). The incidence of time-loss match injuries (14.7; 95% CI ±3.44) was significantly higher in men than in women.
A critical review of water polo in-competition rules and the implementation of a Fair Play programme may help to mitigate the high incidence of contact injuries incurred during matches. A water polo-specific concussion education programme including recognition, treatment and return to play is recommended. Finally, a prospective injury surveillance programme would help to better define water polo injuries outside of the competition period.