ACL injuries in the AFLW
This weekend sees round two of the 2019 AFL season as well as the 2019 AFLW Grand Final. As we wrap up another season of AFLW, there is much discussion around injuries; specifically around the increased number of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, especially as compared to the numbers of the same injury in AFL-playing men.
Women are 9.2 times more likely than men within the AFL system to sustain an ACL injury (ABC News, 6 March 2019), and this year, that has meant that in their short season, there have been five AFLW players who have suffered ACL ruptures.
There are often reasons and justifications provided in the media that centre around the biological and anatomical differences between men and women. There is some data – though very limited – to support this rationale, however it is more widely accepted within AFL and sports professionals that the reason for the higher rates in injury have a lot more to do with both the playing and semi-professional season conditions of the AFLW league.
The semi-professional nature of the AFLW means that athletes are perhaps only training a few nights a week before suddenly being put in a high-speed professional environment. These players are maintaining full or part-time jobs in addition to football in order to make a living, and their short pre-season means that a lot of time tends to be focussed on team and ball skills, rather than strength and conditioning. Weight and strength training is also something that takes time, and that’s not something these teams are given a lot of. In addition to their jobs outside of AFLW, most of these players are competing throughout the year in their community or state leagues, which means that much of their additional time is allocated to recovery and team training.
Men in the AFL, by comparison, are traditionally drafted as full-time players though it may take a few seasons before they are playing high-speed, professional AFL regularly. This allows time for their bodies to prepare for the rigours of the sport.
Injury-reduction programs can be an effective way to reduce the risk of injury for professional athletes. The obvious prevalence of ACL injuries has seen the AFL team up with the Women’s Health in Sport and Exercise team from La Trobe University to develop an injury-reduction program called Prep to Play (click here for more).
Prep to Play, and other injury-prevention programs, can include the essential combination of different warm ups, training in movement quality, and strengthening exercises for key muscle groups. It also provides an opportunity for the strengthening exercises to be tailored to the specific sport; AFL is a sport that puts a lot of stress on the knees with its twisting, turning, jolting, jumping, and landing.
Melissa Haberfield, a physiotherapist who is part of the Prep to Play team, is confident that we will see a statistical change over the next few seasons as the league becomes further professionalised (ABC News, 6 March 2019). Giving AFLW players more opportunity to train, condition, and prepare for the intensity of the sport should have a considerable impact on the number of injuries, specifically to the ACL.
Our physiotherapist, Quoc Ho, is available to help you prepare your body for sport and help with recovery. Click here to make your appointment.