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Australian-first study reveals gender differences in footy injuries

Monday, 29 March 2021

A landmark study has for the first-time revealed gender differences in the injuries sustained by community-level footy players. Researchers from Deakin University, Barwon Heath and the Barwon Centre for Orthopaedic Research and Education (B-CORE) partnered with emergency departments in Geelong and south-west Victoria to undertake the study, which is also supported by the AFL Research Board.

The study, of more than 1600 Australian rules football players who attended emergency departments in Victoria between January and October 2019, found female players (comprising 14.8% of study attendees) experienced more hand/finger and neck injuries and kneecap dislocations, while male players endured more shoulder and trunk injuries and skin lacerations.

Dr Stephen Gill, senior B-CORE research fellow, said the Aussie Rules Football Injury Study was the first to directly compare football injuries in community-level players.

"Given the increasing number of female footy players, it’s important that we understand the risks involved," Dr Gill said.

"Most research to-date has focused on men, so together with the Australian Football League (AFL), we’ve taken a much closer look at the injuries sustained by female players compared to male players."

The results revealed that:

  • female players had a higher proportion of hand/ finger injuries (34.3% v 23.4%), neck injuries (6.6% v 2.5%) and patella dislocations (2.9% v 0.6%);
  • male players experienced a higher proportion of shoulder injuries (11.5% v 5.8%), skin lacerations (8.0% v 1.7%), and thorax/abdominal/pelvic injuries (5.7% v 2.1%);
  • concussion rates were similar between the genders and occurred in 14.1% of all patients;
  • anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries were infrequent (1.0%) and not significantly different between genders (2.1% v 0.9%);
  • female players received more imaging investigations, such as x-rays and CT scans, (83.1% v 74.7%) and analgesia (62.4% v 48.5%);
  • a higher proportion of male players required admission to hospital (5.0% v 2.1%), usually for surgery.

Dr Gill said he was surprised by some of the findings, particularly around concussions and ACL injuries.

“Women have higher rates of concussion than men in some sports, so we were expecting to see that in this study," he said.

"Instead we found that concussions were shared almost equally between male players and female players.

"It was a similar story with ACLs, which is a serious knee injury. Women tend to have higher rates of ACL injuries, however we found only a small number of these injuries, and our statistical tests did not find differences between male players and female players."

With female players and male players suffering different types of injuries, Dr Gill said it is important to now understand why this is and how these injuries might be prevented.

"For example, do female players try and mark the football differently to male players which explains the higher number of hand and finger injuries," he said.

"If we can figure this out, then we can implement targeted, gender-specific injury prevention programs."

The results of the study are reported in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport paper ‘Gender differences in female and male Australian Football injuries – A prospective observational study of emergency department presentations’.