Injury incidence, risk factors and prevention in Australian rules football

Sports Med. 2013 May;43(5):339-54. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0034-0.


Along with the enjoyment and the other positive benefits of sport participation, there is also the risk of injury that is elevated in contact sport. This review provides a summary of injury incidence in Australian rules football (ARF), identifies injury risk factors, assesses the efficacy of interventions to reduce injury risk and makes recommendations for future research. The most common injuries were found to be muscle strains, particularly hamstrings; joint ligament sprains, especially ankle; haematomas and concussion. The most severe joint injury was anterior cruciate ligament rupture. Mouthguards are commonly worn and have been shown to reduce orofacial injury. There is evidence that thigh pads can reduce the incidence of thigh haematomas. There is a reluctance to wear padded headgear and an attempt to assess its effectiveness was unsuccessful due to low compliance. The most readily identified risk factor was a history of that injury. There were conflicting findings as to the influence strength imbalances or deficit has on hamstring injury risk in ARF. Static hamstring flexibility was not related to risk but low hip flexor/quadriceps flexibility increased hamstring injury risk. High lower-limb and high hamstring stiffness were associated with an elevated risk of hamstring injury. Since stiffness can be modulated through strength or flexibility training, this provides an area for future intervention studies. Low postural balance ability was related to a greater risk of ankle injury in ARF, players with poor balance should be targeted for balance training. There are preliminary data signifying a link between deficiencies in hip range of motion and hip adductor strength with groin pain or injury. This provides support for future investigation into the effectiveness of an intervention for high-risk players on groin injury rate. Low cross-sectional area of core-region muscle has been associated with more severe injuries and a motor control exercise intervention that increased core muscle size and function resulted in fewer games missed due to injury. A randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of eccentric hamstring exercise in decreasing hamstring injury rate in ARF players was unsuccessful due to poor compliance from muscle soreness; a progressive eccentric training intervention for ARF should be given future consideration. Jump and landing training reduced injury risk in junior ARF players and it would be advisable to include this component as part of a neuromuscular training intervention. A multifaceted programme of sport-specific drills for hamstring flexibility while fatigued, sport skills that load the hamstrings and high-intensity interval training to mimic match playing conditions showed some success in reducing the incidence of hamstring injuries in ARF. A countermeasure designed to reduce injury risk is more likely to be adopted by coaches and players if it also has the scope to enhance performance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Athletic Injuries / etiology
  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Football / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Protective Devices
  • Risk Factors