The project will be led by physiotherapists Professor Kay Crossley and researcher Ms Brooke Patterson, a former AFLW player and current development coach for Melbourne. It will evaluate rates of concussion and knee injuries in more than 3500 women and girls aged 16 and over who play Australian Rules football.
“We do not know the injury rates in women and girls playing community football,” Professor Crossley said.
“While we do know that injury prevention programs can reduce knee and head injuries in female soccer, their effectiveness in Australian Rules football is untested so far.”
Professor Crossley said a woman who has had an ACL injury is four to six times more at risk of developing osteoarthritis than an uninjured woman, and twice as likely to require a knee replacement later in life.
“Getting this type of data will be critical to improving long term health outcomes for women and girls.”
Given the explosion in popularity of football at all levels, the study will help mitigate injury risk and lead to enhanced injury prevention programs. This is especially important in 2021 given the long COVID-19 layoff which has anecdotally seen an increase in a range of injuries as athletes return to sport.
Study co-ordinator, Ms Patterson said concussion and knee injuries occur at a higher rate in the AFLW than in other elite female ball sports, and the AFLW 2020 injury report showed knee injuries had increased from the 2019 season.
“The aim of our study is to teach players important injury avoidance techniques like 360-degree spatial awareness, footwork, co-ordination, technical and contact skills,” Ms Patterson said.
The extended time away from sport last year meant it was even more important to ensure girls and women look after themselves and prepare for the game in a way that reduces injury risk as much as possible.
“While injuries are an unfortunate by product of all sports, we’re encouraging community clubs to work with their local physio to maximise recovery and reduce the risk of ongoing injuries.”
The researchers aim sign up more than 3000 women and girls for the study through their local football clubs. Physiotherapists will be trained by the La Trobe project team to support coaches in their local clubs to use injury prevention programs in their training and pre-game preparation.
The project is now recruiting U16 to U19 and senior women’s teams for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.