Reducing the risk of knee injuries in athletes

St John of God Geelong Hospital researchers are leading a new study to understand why AFLW athletes experience a higher incidence of ACL injuries than their male counterparts.

17 Nov 2021

St John of God Geelong Hospital Stephen Gill

The research, which is being led by Dr Stephen Gill, from the hospital and Deakin University’s School of Medicine, will also look at ways to reduce the risk of injury.

The entire Geelong AFLW football team will be studied over the course of a year to examine their movement patterns and find any connections to ACL injuries.

Data will also be compared to the way the football club’s male player’s move.

“There is a lot of interest in injuries to AFLW players at the moment as we are seeing quite a number of women experiencing ACL tears during games,” he said.

“So we want to see how we can intervene to reduce the incidence of injuries through changing things like training, or the strength and conditioning of players.

“We want to know what works specifically for women.”

Stephen said that the risk of ACL rupture was five to 10 times more likely to occur in women elite-level players than in men.

“By studying AFLW players we will be able to get a comprehensive set of data to understand the biomechanical reasons why knee injuries are occurring more often and what we can do to reduce the risk,” he said.

“An ACL injury can affect your season and may end your career. It will also affect your participation in other activities throughout your life and we know that the risk of needing a knee replacement doubles after an ACL injury.

“So this research will have far reaching impacts for AFLW players as well as the wider community of female athletes and the community.”

The research is the second study into Australian Football injuries to be led by Stephen, who is a physiotherapist and has worked at St John of God Geelong Hospital since 2017.Watch the Channel 7 report about this research.

His first study looked at the differences in injuries experienced by men and women in community football.

St John of God Geelong Hospital Acting Chief Executive Officer Taanya Widdicombe said participating in this research project would help the hospital better care for all women, whether or not they were athletes, who experience ACL injury. 

“It is really exciting that St John of God Geelong Hospital. Football is a big part of our community and it’s great to be part of this research which is the first of its kind to really analyse how AFLW players move and how that translates into opportunities to help them avoid injury,” she said. 

“It is also likely to help our specialists and physiotherapists better support women after surgery to reduce the risk of re-injuring their knees.”