Australian Rules football is associated with a high rate of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. A partial or complete tear of this knee ligament causes swelling, pain and movement difficulties.
New research has examined ACL injuries in nonprofessional Australian football players to determine their likelihood of returning to the sport after reconstruction surgery.
“Australian Rules football is the most popular code of football played in Australia, with the number of participants estimated to exceed 1.7 million,” explains lead researcher, Professor Kate Webster.
“Players can move the ball by hand or foot and dispose of it in any direction. Each game, they perform many landings, and cutting and pivoting movements, which exposes them to significant risk of ACL injury. The most common way to restore knee stability after ACL injury is through reconstruction surgery.”
The research team surveyed 354 nonprofessional players at 12 months and 2-5 years after ACL reconstruction surgery.
While 90% of players expected to return to pre-injury levels of sport participation after surgery, only 75% returned to some form of play, while two-thirds returned to pre-injury participation levels.
Twenty-one percent of study participants reported another ACL injury after returning to the sport.
“Those who did not return to play mostly cited fear of reinjury as the reason for their non-return,” explains Webster. “Our findings continue to highlight the psychological impact of ACL injury, with psychological readiness one of the preoperative factors currently associated with return to play.”
While the study examined male football players, Webster says the findings have implications for players in the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW).
“ACL injuries are the most common injury among AFLW players. With the increasing representation of women and girls in Australian football, we anticipate that, unfortunately, ACL injuries in the community could also become more common.”
The research team are now examining return-to-sport for nonprofessional female Australian Rules football players after ACL injury.