How orthopaedic surgeons can help manage AFL injuries

18 August 2021
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The cold months have well and truly arrived in Melbourne, which means one thing. Footy season! AFL is one of the most popular sports in Australia, and for good reason. It’s an iconic game that welcomes players at every level. But it’s also a high intensity contact sport, and one where injuries are far too common. We’ve all witnessed one of our favourite players sprinting around the pitch and then suddenly hitting the ground in agony. Mr Soong Chua has seen his fair share of footy injuries in his role as a leading Melbourne orthopaedic specialist (and Hawthorn Hawks fan!). So, what are the leading AFL injuries? How can you prevent them from happening, and what can you do if you do suffer an injury while kicking a footy?

What are the most common AFL injuries?

  • Hamstring injuries: the number one injury in the AFL is a hamstring strain, which is usually linked to high-speed running and extended kicking–these often occur as a player kicks a goal.
  • ACL injuries: coming in at the second most frequent injury in AFL is damage to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in the knee. It can “pop” out and rupture, usually after a sudden movement such as when a player abruptly changes direction.
  • Shoulder injuries: AC joint injuries, dislocations, rotator cuff tears and tendonitis are all shoulder-related injuries normally acquired by rough contact. It’s why you’ll often see footy players taping up their shoulders before playing.
  • Head injuries: hard head contact from other players, the ball, and the ground can cause concussion.
  • Fractures: damage to bones can occur during high-impact contests or from contact with the ground.

Prevention is key

Taking steps to minimise risk is one of the most impactful strategies for avoiding AFL injuries.

  • Maintain a training regime to keep up fitness
  • Always warm up and down
  • Drink lots of water, eat healthy food, and don’t consume alcohol before playing
  • Take care when doing sudden stopping and starting motions as these are a frequent cause of footy-related injuries
  • Wear appropriate equipment e.g. good quality boots, mouth-guards.

How do orthopaedic surgeons help footy players?

Even when players try their best to play a safe game, injuries occur (especially at an elite level). If they are suffering from serious shoulder and knee injuries, players might have to consult with an orthopaedic surgeon. Orthopaedic surgeons specialise in musculoskeletal problems. They use advanced processes such as arthroscopic surgery to perform complex operations, repairing, reconstructing, and replacing severely damaged areas of the body. For example, in an ACL reconstruction, a surgeon will make a keyhole-sized incision into the knee joint and graft tendon taken from another part of the knee as an ACL replacement. It’s estimated that 5% of AFL players will suffer from an ACL injury in their career–it’s common.

After a shoulder injury, the labrum or ligaments inside the shoulder may need to be repaired with special anchors and sutures. Shoulder stabilisation surgery can also be performed through arthroscopic surgery with modern techniques.

That’s why orthopaedic surgeons have developed highly sophisticated techniques to manage the risk and ongoing effects of these kinds of injuries.

Soong Chua is passionate about helping footy players access the maximum range of motion and mobility possible; he’s brought his expertise to his private clinics and to OSV (OrthoSport Victoria).

Have you got an AFL injury? Get in contact with Soong Chua’s team today to talk about your options.

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