Cutting sporting Australians to their knees: time for more investment in sports injury prevention

By David Hunter, Florance and Cope Professor of Rheumatology

Australia flagAustralians’ passion for their favourite sporting pursuits is almost unmatched by any other country throughout the world. We pride ourselves on our sporting heritage and the records that our minnow sized population has been able to achieve in an ever expanding sporting world. Not detracting from the importance of physical activity, our love for sport is counterposed by the risks inherent in not practising sport safely.

How common is this problem?

Every year approximately 20,000 Australians tear the main ligament in their knee and about half of those require reconstruction. The major burden of these injuries is amongst our young adults (15 to 25-year-olds) and this appears to be rising at about 5 to 6% each year. These injuries appear to be more common in females potentially as a consequence of anatomical and physiological differences. They are so common they now lead to five times more hospital admissions than road injuries.

What are the consequences?

Separate from the pain and diminished sports participation, knee injuries can also lead to reconstructive surgery, osteoarthritis and potentially, joint replacement. Thirty to forty per cent of participants experiencing a major sports-related injury will discontinue playing sport and/or will significantly reduce their physical activity levels. Approximately 60% of young persons who sustain a knee injury will develop osteoarthritis within 10 to 15 years.

This can be prevented

Robust evidence supports that over half of these injuries could be prevented if young people received appropriate balance and agility training. This training teaches them how to land properly on their knee and move so that the potential for injury is not sustained. A preventive training program should include exercises that are done 2-3 times a week over the course of the entire season, take no more than 15 minutes to complete, and can be incorporated by coaches into regular training sessions. Many forward thinking countries around the world have implemented such training programs with great success. An Australian sports injury prevention program targeting all 12 to 17-year-olds and high risk 17 to 25 – year -olds would cost $1 million per year and cut future public health costs by $120 million over four years.

An effective response to sports injury prevention is now needed in order to make sport safe for all participants and reduce the later community burden of osteoarthritis. Sport has many salutary benefits and we strongly encourage increased “safe” participation in sport. The major sporting codes are all on board and we need funding to ensure the Australian sports commission can train coaches and trainers properly in implementing these sports injury prevention programs. Discussions have been had with the respective federal sports/health ministers of successive Labor and conservative governments without success. Will Smith’s recent movie appropriately highlighted concerns related to concussion and the threat of litigation for the NFL. Young sporting Australians deserve the right to practice sport safely-our mutual love for sport supports that wish.

 

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