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Knee injuries increase with AFL's fast pace

Roar Pro
7th March, 2012
1

The sight of players struck down with knee injuries is something any AFL fan hates. However, the recent 2011 AFL injury report has shown an increase in serious knee injuries and players requiring knee reconstructions. The question is why?

Why is this happening when the latest medical advice and technology are directed toward player safety more than ever in our great game?

Research and the AFL medical association are examining this situation and have thrown out some possible reasons for this increase. Pitch conditions and even climate have been cited. I would have to disagree. Despite the early dramas at Etihad stadium, the pitch conditions across all AFL venues in Australia are fantastic.

The drop-in cricket pitches at the MCG mean the centre square is now safer than ever. I cannot see climate as an issue. I can certainly see climate affecting soft tissue injuries, which decreased in 2011, but even then, this seems like a stretch as an answer for our knee injuries.

The link between how our game is played and knee injuries seems far more logical. Fitsense Australia conducts yearly GPS reviews for the AFL and many of the clubs. The report showed interesting results in terms of the distance and work rate of AFL players.

It even looked into the work rate of the top four and bottom four teams from the 2011 season. What was interesting was the speed of our game and the changes in speed.

The results from the GPS tracking showed AFL players more than ever are travelling further in a match and are accelerating and decelerating more. It showed a large increase in players accelerating over 10km/hr and also significant decelerations over 10km/hr in a match.

The results also showed an increased average intensity in the duration of a match. This can certainly be put down to players having multiple rotations off the bench, then having higher intensity in shorter bursts on the field.

The load and impact of these increases on player’s knees and bodies is no doubt significant. AFL players are some of the most elite sportsmen in the world and push their bodies to the limit of their capabilities. Sudden changes of direction and speed have a direct correlation to knee injuries.

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I can think of only too many examples over the last five years where players rupture or tear ACLs by sudden movement and change of direction rather than impact and twisting. Mark LeCras and Andrew Krakouer both recently rupturing their ACLs from sudden movements.

The high rotations we see at the interchange gates have certainly meant players are rested then expected to give high-intensity bursts before being rested again. This links to the high demand and impact on players’ bodies. I am in support of the current sub rule and feel that it has improved our game. However, the speed of our game and the high impact and load on players’ bodies is causing these more serious and long term injuries.

I certainly cannot offer a solution to the problem but it poses a question for coaches, fitness staff, physiotherapists and doctors at each of the 18 clubs: what are you doing to help your players avoid serious knee injuries in 2012?

Unfortunately, the stats are showing a number of players will be struck down again this season.

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