Life after the game – Injury profile of past elite Australian football players
King T., Rosenberg M,, Braham R., Feruson R., Dawson B. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2012; ahead of print.
Australian football players are exposed to extreme physical demands, which cause disproportionately high number of injuries compared to other sports. Due to the magnitude of the physical and psychological strains most Australian Football League players have an average career of 4.7 years inevitably meaning a player pursues a second career, and there has been little research on how their football career affects the players later in life. Therefore, the authors investigated the long-term health (mental and physical) of past Australian Football League players and the effect of prior injuries on their currently lifestyle. Five hundred and ninety-two past Australian Football League players completed a health and well-being survey (37% response rate). The survey included questions about playing career, current mental and physical health, education and employment history, and demographic information on the specific serious injuries and concussions they sustained during their career. Many of the players reported they had at least 1 serious injury (i.e., required hospitalization and/or surgery; 77%) and at least 1 concussion (73%). The retired players most commonly reported serious injuries at the knee (57%), ankle/foot (33%), and shoulder (31%). The authors found that the most common classification of those injuries were strains and sprains, both of which occurred on average 4 times throughout the career of players who reported a history of serious injuries. Sixty-four percent of the players reported that their previous injuries affected their daily life. In addition, 60% of players who reported serious injuries required on-going treatment. Half of the players reported they have arthritis. Players with a history of lower extremity injuries (82%) were more likely to be negatively impacted than those with a history of upper extremity injuries (55%). Players that reported 1 to 5 injuries typically played in fewer games (on average 77 games) than players that reported over 11 injuries (on average 120 games). Additionally, players receiving at least 1 concussion played in more games (on average 106 games) than those with no reported concussion history (on average 72 games).
Many retired Australian Football League players reported at least 1 serious injury during their career and many are still receiving treatment. The survey did not include questions about rehabilitation or time it took for their injuries to heal as well as medication use, which has been a problem in retired National Football League players (NFL; American football). This study reaffirms that athletes in high impact sports are at greater risk for negative long-term health outcomes, where the risk of this increases with lower extremity injuries compared to upper extremity injuries. Research conducted within the NFL supports the notion that some athletes may be in for long-term health issues. In sports medicine, we should be concerned not just with injury prevention but also preventing the long-term adverse health outcomes associated with injuries. Therefore, it is important for sports medicine clinicians to better understand what long-term health issues athletes have, what athletes are at risk for these, and then what we can do to amend that risk (patient education, treatment). In an environment, where the players and coaches are often concerned about the here and now we must take action and raise our voice about finding ways to reduce these long-term health issues. If we don't then we cannot really take claim to be experts in prevention and we are failing our patients. Do you believe if this study was replicated in the United States with rugby, football, or ice hockey athletes we would find similar findings?
Written by: Jane McDevitt MS, ATC, CSCS
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban
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