Why women's bodies may not be ready for contact sport

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As the push continues to expand professional sporting opportunities for females, such as the AFL Women’s league, some experts warn biological differences could see injury rates soar.

A study published in 2018 in the Medical Journal of Australia showed girls and women are two to 10 times more likely to rupture their Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) when participating in high-risk sports.

Associate professor Chris Vertullo, an orthopaedic knee surgeon, says the stats are concerning.

“It is a problem because you take a high risk sport and take a high risk participant, and you play a lot more of it and the end result is a greater number of injuries.”

“I've had three young ladies playing AFL rupture their ACL within a couple of weeks of each other from the same team and need a reconstruction in a short period of time,” he says.

Along with ACL injuries, the AFL has identified that concussions have been identified as a major injury concern in the women’s league. 

Professor Gary Browne, from The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, says data from the US shows that female colleague athletes have a higher rate of concussion across all sports. He believes we’re now seeing this issue play out in Australia.

“We're now seeing a lot of female athletes with quite significant concussion and even post-concussion syndrome,” he says.

“If you actually look at a female athlete who is concussed, they're twice as likely to actually suffer on-going cognitive problems and balance problems compared to their male counterparts.

“They're more likely to take much longer to recover and overall, this seems to be becoming quite a significant problem for us to manage.”

Professor Browne also says studies show neck strength in females is significantly less than that of males and is contributing to an increase of injury.

“Young girls have 50 per cent less neck strength in terms of the way their neck mechanics actually work, they have very poor neck control and they're more likely to get a rotational force.”

Insight contacted the AFL for comment but did not hear back.

Insight explores why more kids are getting sports injuries and what can be done to prevent them. Kids' Sports Injuries Tuesday March 5 at 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

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