Objective: To ascertain the incidence, severity, risk factors, and outcomes of injuries in children and adolescents playing Australian Rules football.
Setting and subjects: A prospective cohort study of football injuries in children and adolescents playing community football. We studied a stratified random sample of 54 teams and clinics (18 under-15 teams, 18 under-10 teams and 18 Vickick clinics for children under 10 years) from the Melbourne metropolitan area. Football exposure, injuries and associated risk factors were recorded for 1253 players during the 1992 football season.
Results: Vickick, a modified form of the game, had the lowest rates of injury for all levels of injury severity, with an overall rate of 3.49 injuries per 1000 player-hours. The rate in the under-10 age group was 2.4 times higher (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.5-3.8) than that in Vickick, and the under-15 rate was 1.2 times (95% CI, 0.9-1.6) that of the under-10s. The under-15 age group had significantly more injuries that led to use of health services than the under-10 and Vickick groups, with rates of 3.93 (95% CI, 2.9-4.9), 0.64 (95% CI, 0.2-1.4), and 0.33 (95% CI, 0.1-0.8) injuries per 1000 players-hours respectively. Injuries were largely to soft tissues (sprains 26%, haematomas 25%) and to the lower limb (43%). Very few serious injuries occurred (19 fractures and three injuries with loss of consciousness); nearly all of these were in the under-15s. Rule modifications in under-10 teams and clinics were associated with an injury rate of 5.8 injuries per 1000 player-hours (95% CI, 4.4-7.3) compared with 7.5 injuries per 1000 player-hours (95% CI, 5.2-9.8) when no modification was used. Alterations to the ruck contest, decreased contact, field size and player numbers were significantly associated with lower injury rates, while body size was not. Of the 30% of injuries resulting in a health service consultation, the most common health provider was a medical practitioner. Very few required expensive investigation or treatment.
Conclusion: Injury rates were low in children under age 10, but higher in adolescents. Most injuries were minor, and did not result in a health professional consultation. Rule modifications were associated with substantially lower injury rates at the under-10 level, and should be promoted as a safe way to learn football skills.