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AFLW: Concussion, ACL injuries highlighted

Western Bulldog Isabel Huntington had her second ACL injury during the season - AFLW,Injuries
Western Bulldog Isabel Huntington had her second ACL injury during the season

CONCUSSION and ruptured ACLs have been identified as the major injury concerns in the NAB AFL Women's competition.

Due to the short nature of the competition – only 29 games were played in each of the first two seasons – the AFL waited until the conclusion of the second season to get as much data as possible before releasing the inaugural AFLW Injury Report. 

There were 14 concussions suffered in the 2017 AFLW season, including those that didn't cause players to miss a match. This increased slightly to 16 in 2018.

In order to compare injury rates between the AFL and AFLW, the report converted the data to show an incidence rate based on 1000 player hours.

Torn ACL injuries increased from 4.31 per 1000 hours in 2017 to 6.47 this year. By comparison, there were only 0.7 ACL injuries per 1000 player hours in the AFL in 2017.

The incidence of concussion causing missed matches was 3.2 injuries per 1000 player hours in both AFLW seasons, compared to 1.5 injuries per 1000 hours in the 2017 AFL season.

Shoulder injuries (3.23 in both seasons per 1000 player hours) and elbow/wrist and hand injuries (up from zero in 2017 to 3.23 in 2018 per 1000 hours) also featured in the data. 

Research shows women playing various sports around the world are more susceptible to both concussion and ACL injuries than men, due to physiological factors (body structure, hormones, even neck strength in terms of concussion).

Some research has also indicated women may be more likely to report concussive symptoms than men. 

The definition of an "injury" for the purposes of the report was an "injury or medical condition which causes a player to miss a match", as it is for the AFL injury report.

The AFL will also be using Hawkeye vision tablets for interchange bench medical vision during the 2019 AFLW season for the first time. 

As was the case in the AFL this year, AFLW club doctors will have access via the tablets to multiple broadcast angles to help with concussion diagnoses.

"Given the higher susceptibility of female players to concussion, we consider it a very important initiative for AFLW," the AFL’s head of AFLW football Nicole Livingstone said.

The AFL will use the AFLW injury report to assist with further research and investment in the ACL prevention and concussions.

"In season two we had a study with La Trobe University (in Melbourne) looking at prehabilitation exercises for ACLs and to see whether or not we could have an influence in reducing the likelihood of an ACL injury happening," Livingstone said. 

"We had three of the four Melbourne-based clubs participate in that, so that first phase is finished.

"Some good data has come out of that from (La Trobe’s) Kay Crossley and Melbourne player Brooke Patterson, who has been involved on that with her PhD studies on knee reconstructions. 

"Phase two will kick in with the ACL prevention study, which the AFLW Injury Report research will support."

The prehabiliation will be incorporated both into training and the players' own time.

"To get the players and coaches to understand this is something they need to be fastidious about … is really important," Livingstone said.

"There are plenty of athletes, male and female, who do extra work to make themselves better athletes, so it's getting into that mindset.

"We had people talk about how some of the female players hadn't previously embarked on a fitness regime or used gyms before season one, so it will get better with time.

"The more time they spend around these high-performance training environments, in terms of notching up seasons, I think they'll get up to speed pretty quickly." 

The AFLW clubs will also receive a presentation from the AFL's football operations department in late October on the report and future plans around injury prevention.