Medibank backing research collaboration on female knee injury

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Medibank has highlighted its partnership with researchers at La Trobe University focused on finding ways to reduce the incidence of knee injury among female Australian football players.

The research is supported by a grant from the federal government's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The NHMRC funding is enabling researchers to work with partners - the AFL, Medibank, the Australian Physiotherapy Association, the Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians and Sports Medicine Australia - to evaluate the uptake and effectiveness of a new approach to managing the risk of knee injury.

The rate of knee injury among female Australian football players is on the rise. An estimated 5 per cent of the 500,000 women playing Australian football are likely to sustain an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury each year.

La Trobe’s Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre researchers, led by Professor Kay Crossley, have secured an NHMRC Partnership grant to work with the AFL and other partners to the evaluate the effectiveness of Prep-to-Play, a La Trobe-developed program aimed at curbing injury.

Professor Crossley said female participation in sports such as Australian football is growing rapidly. Yet it is proving risky to knees, particularly among young, active women.

“A woman who has had an ACL injury is four to six times more at risk of osteoarthritis than an uninjured woman,” said Professor Crossley, a clinical sports physiotherapist.

“A woman with an ACL injury is twice as likely to require a knee joint replacement later in life and is one-and-a-half times more likely to develop chronic cardiovascular disease. These longer-term injuries or diseases can have lasting affects one physical and mental health. They also put a burden on our healthcare system,” said Professor Crossley.

Professor Crossley worked with AFL coaches and players to create Prep-to-Play. It provides resources to help grassroots football coaches and female players enhance performance while reducing injury risk.

Dr Linda Swan, Medibank’s chief medical officer and executive lead of its Better Health Foundation, said research can be a catalyst for change in government policy and community practices. She said it’s up to coaches, parents and carers to ensure children and teenagers are warming up properly, to greatly reduce the risk of injury.

“A national injury prevention program like Prep-to-Play is science based and cost-effective for a club to implement. The education of coaches, players and parents is critical to ensure we do better in looking after the knees of our sporty young women,” said Dr Swan.

“Government health agencies and sporting bodies need to recognise the future health implications of ACL injuries for children and teenagers. We know women are worse off when it comes to ACL and other injuries than men in both AFL and soccer,” added Dr Swan.

“Preventing injuries from happening in the first instance is vital for the mental and physical welfare of our community and benefits our healthcare system. Providing a safer sporting environment will hopefully encourage more young women to participate in sports and exercise,” said La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Industry Engagement Professor Susan Dodds.

AFL Head of Women’s Football Nicole Livingstone said player health and safety is paramount.

“The AFL will continue to support research and implement best-practice injury prevention programs across all levels of women’s football. The AFL Female Football Prep to Play Program has been a terrific resource for football communities from the grassroots to the elite to implement in their training programs and we will continue to work with La Trobe University to research ways in which we can decrease the incidence and prevalence of knee injuries in women’s football,” said Ms Livingstone.