Women in sport, footy, ACL prevention-Mel Haberfield

It’s an exciting time to be involved in woman’s sport. In fact, it makes me wish I was a teenager again with the opportunities that our young women have to pursue their dreams of becoming a professional athlete. From the rise of the Matilda’s, to the restructuring of the National Netball League, and of course the introduction of the AFLW. There are more pathways than ever for young female athletes to follow into the professional ranks.

But with this rise in popularity, we have also seen a rise in the rate of serious knee injuries in female athletes.

I am excited to be taking up a role in the AFLW for the upcoming 2019 season as one of the team physiotherapists for North Melbourne Football Club. It will be the inaugural season for North Melbourne in the AFLW. Exciting times for all involved.

The AFLW Injury Report shows that compared to their male counterparts, woman in the AFLW have a 9.2x greater risk of suffering an ACL injury. This figure sits even above the 2-5x greater risk that woman participating in all sports have of rupturing their ACL. Should we be concerned? The reasons for the increased risk in the female athlete are complex and multifactorial – from our genetics/anatomy, to hormonal considerations, to overall strength and conditioning, quality and skill of movement patterns, as well as factors such as footwear. There is much discussion and research occurring around this topic as we speak. Although the injury rates have been high in the first 2 seasons, there is plenty that can be done to reduce injury risk and enhance athletic performance. Injury Reduction Programs (IRP’s) have been shown to be an effective way to reduce the risk of injury by up to 50%!

IRP’s include different components of warm up, preparation, movement quality training, and strengthening exercises for key muscle groups. In the AFLW, teams have all developed programs for the female athletes to undertake at training and before games to help decrease their risk of injury. Professional athletes themselves are becoming more aware of the importance of participating in IRP’s. But there is still much work to be done at the grassroots and community level.

With the massive uptake of sport, especially footy, in girls at the grassroots level, it’s important we begin to educate and talk to our community level athletes about how they too can reduce their risk of injury and enhance their performance. As physio’s we want to encourage our young female athletes to take up sport, and participate fully in their passion of footy, without having an overshadowing fear of impending injury. The benefits of young people participating in sport still far outweigh the risks! The key is for young female (and male) athletes to develop good movement patterns and skills specific to their sport, progressively develop their strength and load capacity as they grow and develop, and be aware of how to prepare their bodies for training and game day with an appropriate warm up. Recovery is also a big key and should be holistic in nature. Gone are the days where recovery is just putting an ice pack on after a game. Recovery should include considerations such as appropriate sleep patterns, nutrition, training load management, general wellness, and self-management strategies.

As a physio, my passion is to not only work with elite athletes in exciting opportunities such as the AFLW, but also with community level and young athletes.

If you or an aspiring young athlete you know want to learn more about what IRP’s involve, or how to recover better, come in and see us at Inner North Physiotherapy. Remember prevention is better than cure!

Mel is part of the Research team at La Trobe University looking at injury prevention in Women’s footy.

Melissa Haberfield