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Knee Injuries In AFLW

With the third season of Womens AFL in the books these elite athletes are now looking towards recovery and rehabilitation of any injuries that may have surfaced in the season to get ready for when pre-season rolls around.

It has been well documented by the AFL that the most common injuries for the women's season have been knee injuries, more specifically Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears.

Incidence of Injury

With little data for female athletes, what data we can compare is season to season injury rates. In the inaugural season there were around 4 ACL injuries per 1000 hours of Women’s AFL playing time, this unfortunately increased in 2018 to 6.5 ACL tears per 1000 hours. Comparing this to only 0.7 ACL tears per 1000 hours in the Mens competition, it is an area of interest firstly why this is considerably higher and secondly how can we prevent this from happening.

Why?

These injuries are more commonly sustained in non contact situations, so why is this type of injury so common for this group of athletes?

The mechanism of injury, or the position these tears occur in is knee abduction, lateral trunk motion with the body shifted over one leg and the plantar surface of the foot fixed flat on the playing surface, displaced away from the trunk and low knee flexion. This is depicted in the picture below.

Knee Valgus
 

Biomechanical differences can however predispose females to ACL injuries such as a larger Q Angle, which is the angle between the hip joint and the knee joint as seen in this image.

 
Knee Q Angle

Can I prevent this from happening?

As a physiotherapist who has sustained an ACL rupture, undergone surgery and completed all the rehabilitation involved with it, I know how important it is to properly prepare to avoid these injuries. 

An ideal injury prevention program should not solely focus on strength around the knee, but in the hip, ankle and core, be specific to your sport and include properly warming up before trainings and games.

In the AFLW there is an implemented dynamic warm up program based off research into injury prevention for female athletes, it’s called Prep to Play and has three varied intensities for different levels of athlete.

This program includes dynamic stretching, balance tasks, jumping & landing drills and sports specific change of direction drills.

Looking into the future, with more AFLW seasons the more data will be compiled and can comparisons can be made to see if this specific program is effective in reducing this specific knee injury.

If you are recovering from an ACL injury, looking to return to sport or want to work to prevent these injuries occurring please contact the clinic and talk to our physiotherapists about the best treatment pathway.

References

Black, S. (2019). AFLW: Concussion, ACL injuries highlighted - AFL.com.au. Retrieved from https://www.afl.com.au/news/2018-09-26/aflw-concussion-acl-injuries-highlighted

O'Halloran, K. (2019). Hormones, short contracts or shoes? Why women are more likely to be injured playing AFL. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-05/rates-of-knee-injury-for-aflw-players-are-way-above-male-players/10866434

West, R. and Bryant, B. (2019). ACL injuries in female athletes. St Louis: Elsevier, pp.1-4.