The AFL’s youngest footballers are missing almost 50 per cent more games due to injury than their counterparts from the 1990s.
While agreeing the raw data looks alarming – and that it warrants deeper investigation – the league’s medical experts are defending the findings from the 21st annual injury report, which showed a general drop in overall injury incidence, prevalence and recurrence last season.
Co-authors of the report, Professor John Orchard and boss of the AFL medical officers association Dr Hugh Seward, said that players under the age of 21 were now missing almost as many matches in a season as the game’s veterans (26 year-olds and older) because the younger players’ injuries were being managed better. But both also suspect that the demands of modern football are taking a toll.
The report suggests that the game’s increased intensity is exposing the AFL’s youngest talent to injury – in particular shoulder, hip, groin and thigh complaints.
”I think that there are two factors,” Seward said. ”One is the change in medical management, but also there is a higher exposure to injuries because the intensity of training and playing is so different to what it was.
”But it’s not a 50 per cent increase in injury rate, it’s an increase in the time out – the prevalence.”
The data shows that in the past seven years players under 21 have missed almost the same amount of games as those over 26. Between 1992-98, in contrast, players over the age of 26 spent more than 50 per cent more time out of football with injury than the youngest players in the game.
In the last seven years, the younger players have also missed more time with a raft of complaints – leading in the categories of shoulder, spine, groin, quadriceps, thigh, hip, leg and foot stress fracture injuries – than any other age group.
The 2012 injury report also revealed a record increase in the incidence of calf strains – a result that Orchard said might be a mere ”blip”, or could be something more sinister. ”It is perhaps somehow related to the game trends,” he said.
”It may be related to more movement at low speed and less movement at high speed.”
The incidence of reported concussions in 2012 was down by 0.1 per cent on the 2011 figure, but was still double the average for the past 10 years. As clubs become more conservative in their management of the condition Seward forecast that the number could rise again.
”It’s not because there are more head injuries. In fact, we know from the lower instance of facial fractures that there are less head injuries,” he said.
Seward said clubs were making ”better prognostic decisions” and cited the use of ”imaging”, such as MRI scanning, as a critical development for the game. ”To go from recurrence rates of nearly a quarter down to less than 10 per cent is surely one of the most remarkable things that we can identify,” he said.
Though it has the data on how individual clubs perform with injuries, the AFL does not release it, believing it could compromise transparency. ”Some clubs might even fudge their data if they didn’t want to be the worst,” Orchard said.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.