Life after the game –
Injury profile of past elite Australian football players

T., Rosenberg M,, Braham R., Feruson R., Dawson B. Journal of Science and
Medicine in Sport. 2012; ahead of print.

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).

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?

by: Jane McDevitt MS, ATC, CSCS
by: Jeffrey Driban


King T, Rosenberg M, Braham R, Ferguson R, & Dawson B (2012). Life after the game – Injury profile of past elite Australian Football players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport PMID: 23058879