Injuries on the increase

The scientific community has warned that the injury toll amongst professional athletes is set to increase during their careers and also in retirement.

AFL, soccer and rugby are all being played faster today than ever before and collisions are more powerful as the athletes continue to get bigger. Training loads are also higher than ever and any further increase will result in unacceptably high body demands.

Drawing substantially on the GPS tracking of athletes, these are the disquieting conclusions of Sport Knowledge Australias research team, headed by Professor Kevin Norton. Published research papers also illustrate post-career health issues showing that the level of hip and knee replacements in retired AFL players is approximately 80 times higher than aged-matched controls.

The information gathered highlights the need to develop very specific training programs and avoid excessive injury risk at the same time as gaining the maximum benefit from training and competition, Professor Norton said. To do this, it is necessary to measure game demands that team sports impose on players with the objective of adjusting training loads to be highly specific to mimic the efforts players will need to perform during games.

Over a number of years Professor Norton and his colleagues have established that AFL players have become more powerful runners over shorter distances, that soccer is played at a higher speed and with fewer stoppages, and that rugby has become overall tighter and faster, demanding quicker, more decisive decision-making.

During the past six years, Norton et al found that distance covered per match has decreased from about 20km to 12-15km.

Today, players cover a shorter distance at higher speeds, while previously they covered longer distances at lower speeds.

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