Spotlight on AFL's biggest injury worry

La Trobe University researchers have completed a 15 year review into the most common injury in the AFL – identifying ongoing risks faced by players.

Between 1999 and 2013, 158 AFL players underwent knee reconstructions after injuring their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

Lead researcher and La Trobe University PhD student Courtney Lai said while the majority of players eventually returned to play, the rate of subsequent ACL injury was higher for AFL players than for any other elite athletes.

“The good news is that 121 or 77 per cent of players we investigated recovered well enough after surgery and rehabilitation to resume playing AFL, some within a few months of surgery,” Dr Lai said.

“Unfortunately, 48 players or 30 per cent of the group suffered a second ACL injury on either knee, including 15 who re-injured their knee before they’d even had a chance to return to play.

“The use of artificial grafts in some cases resulted in faster return to play, but those players who received this treatment also had a higher risk of rupture.”

During the study period, 10 players had three knee reconstructions, three players had four knee reconstructions and one player underwent five knee reconstructions.

Project supervisor Associate Professor Kate Webster said the research highlighted the physically demanding nature of AFL and, importantly, identified significant risk factors associated with subsequent ACL injury.

“Being younger, a late draft pick and having a family history of ACLs made AFL players particularly vulnerable,” Dr Webster said.

“We found 50 per cent of players aged under 21 when first injured, suffered another ACL injury.”

The research also revealed that players with more than 50 games experience and those who were higher draft picks were more likely to return to play after an ACL injury.

“These are players with a proven record who clubs want back on their list,” Dr Webster said.

“While an ACL injury is a potentially career-threatening event for all AFL players, ACL reconstruction early in a player’s AFL career can be especially detrimental to their career prospects.

“Hopefully by identifying the risk factors, we can raise awareness and help reduce ACL injuries.”

Published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the research project was a collaboration between La Trobe University and OrthoSport Victoria.

Media Contact Anastasia Salamastrakis 0428 195 464