The number of AFLW players suffering ACL injuries is continuing to rise with one club having lost four players to the knee injury.
Melbourne’s Maddy Guerin, Ainslie Kemp, Shae Sloane and Katherine Smith are all sidelined with the season-ending injury.
The high rate of ACL injuries suffered by AFLW players has led to research into how to reduce young girls’ chances of the injury.
Last year, April Austen spoke to former Melbourne AFLW player Brooke Patterson about her PhD research into ACL injuries.
She spoke about rising concerns of female susceptibility to the serious knee injury, which are still prevalent today.
PATTERSON: Women are more susceptible to ACL injuries. In other sports when we compare to men, that rate is around two to five.
AUSTEN: So to look at AFL specifically, obviously the media has brought a lot of awareness to there seeming to be a lot more ACL injuries for the women perhaps compared to the men.
PATTERSON: If we look at AFLW, just taking the data from the first two seasons, that rate is around nine to ten times higher than the men. There’s obviously lots of unique factors that are playing into those rates in AFLW at the moment. So it’s not only a new sport and people are coming from other sports, but it’s also a new professionalism as well for a lot of girls so they’re coming from non-elite environments. The limited time that the girls have had to get used to the sport and full-time, and the intensity of the game.
AUSTEN: What are some of the key things that you as a researcher and coaches implement to try to prevent their players from suffering ACL injuries?
PATTERSON: They’ve shown certain positions when, I guess, when you land say from a mark or change direction and try to evade players, they’re the positions which the injuries occur. A lot of the programs are focused on trying to land in a position or trying to change direction in a position that reduces the strain on the ACL. And then, touching back to the female thing, they’ve done studies where they look at females and males landing and they do tend to land, females tend to land in those more higher risk, put higher strain on the knee positions.
AUSTEN: Do you want to talk a bit about the Prep To Play program because I know the AFL’s brought that in specifically to sort of focus on preparing girls for footy because it’s often a sport that they haven’t grown up with so much.
PATTERSON: So we rolled that out with the elite program just giving the players and the staff kind of, I guess, resources to help them educate the players on these techniques. So the AFLW clubs have got physios there that are doing all the things that should be included within a program working on these techniques and strength and everything. But it was more to, I guess, educate and help staff who have got limited time to show them ‘okay, when you land this is how you should land’ through videos and manuals and things.
AUSTEN: Do you also encourage the girls to do things at home outside of training sessions?
PATTERSON: What I kind of try and tend to do is show the girls and the coaches some strengthening exercises that they can either do at training or after training or they can do them in their off days. Made some videos and some posters and things which are all actually up on the Coach AFL website. If you just literally type ‘Prep To Play’ into Google, it’s the first thing that comes up. We’ve taken a lot of this actually from other female sports that have, I guess, been through this and have developed really rigorous programs that they embed into their pathways. If you go to any netball training, they’ll be doing all their fast feet and footwork drills so it’s a lot of that type of stuff – the programs that have been shown to reduce injuries by up to 50 per cent.