Deakin study shows best and worst years for AFL player injuries

Media release
01 May 2019

A Deakin study has mapped the types and severity of AFL player injuries and the years when players missed the least number of matches because of injury over a 20-year period.

Daniel Hoffman, a PhD researcher in Deakin's School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, mapped the injury sites and severity of AFL football injuries between 1997 and 2016, using injury data provided by the AFL.

The study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine reveals longitudinal trends and will help inform coaches on where to focus their strategies in reducing player injury and games missed.

While the AFL analysed injury data each year, there has been no study applying statistical techniques to all of the injury data over a long period.

"Clubs spend a lot of time and resources measuring injuries in training and matches, but now they can see a helicopter view of what is happening across the years, giving clubs valuable insight into what has improved and what needs to be improved," Mr Hoffman said.

"This will certainly help with their injury prevention program, and help more players stay in the game for the whole season."

The study of 15,911 injuries between 1997 and 2016 found that:

  • The period 2007 to 2011 was the highest for hip, groin and thigh match injuries, with each team missing an average of 35 matches due to their players sustaining these injuries. This had decreased to 27 missed matches per team in 2012 to 2016.
  • The period 2012 to 2016 was the highest for shin, ankle and foot match injuries, with each team missing an average of 34 matches due to their players sustaining these injuries. Missed matches from these injuries have increased by 51 per cent since the 1997 to 2001 period and have surpassed hip, groin and thigh injuries in 2012 to 2016 period.

The study also measured changes in severity of injuries by measuring how many matches individual players missed because of injury. It found:

  • 1997-2001 - players missed an average of 3.2 matches per season due to injury
  • 2007-2011 - players missed an average of 3.7 matches per season due to injury
  • 2012-2016 - players missed an average of 3.6 matches per season due to injury.

"An increase in severity of 0.5 matches missed per player doesn’t sound like much but when extrapolated to a team list, that’s an additional 22 missed matches per team per season," Mr Hoffman said.

"This increase in severity occurred at the same time interchanges rotation averages increased from 35 to 93."

Mr Hoffman said the study showed the risks of match injuries were significantly higher than training injuries, and that injuries became more severe during 2007-2011.

The study can be found at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2325967119837641

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