8 Mar 2019

ACL injuries a concern for netballers

5:06 am on 8 March 2019

What is being done to prevent netball's ACL injury problem? Sports reporter Ravinder Hunia asks NetballSmart director Sharon Kearney.

Tactix have suffered a cruel blow with Erikana Pedersen's season in doubt with knee injury.

Tactix have suffered a cruel blow with Erikana Pedersen's season in doubt with knee injury. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2019 www.photosport.nz

Another day, another ACL injury in netball it seems.

As common as we hear about concussions for rugby players, we hear ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries for netballers.

The Tactix have been struck with their fourth ACL injury in two years after Erikana Pedersen hit the deck in their round one match against the Magic, scans show she ruptured her ACL and will not play again for the remainder of the season.

But what makes the injury so prevalent in netball?

NetballSmart director Sharon Kearney, former physio of the Silver Ferns said while ACL injuries are common in sports like netball, there is more to it than a lack of prevention.

What is an ACL?

The ACL is a major ligament in the knee joint and is often classified as 'pivotal' because it stabilises the knee and stops the knee from pivoting.

When the knee joint ruptures, the joint is classified as unstable.

Not all ACL injuries are the same or happen the same way though, and the Tactix are a testament to that.

"We've had four in two years because Jess did two in quick succession and every single one has been completely different, real innocuous landing," said Tactix head coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek

"Some of them were on attack and Kana's one hardly looked like she did anything."

"Fa'amu (Stars) did it last year as well as a Steel player, but I know NetballSmart is working really hard to try and help from grassroots but it's the nature of it and the way we use our bodies."

Fa'amu Ioane of the Northern Stars is yet to return from ACL injury in 2018

Fa'amu Ioane of the Northern Stars is yet to return from ACL injury in 2018 Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

Why are netballers susceptible to the injury?

Research has shown that women are four to five times more likely to rupture their ACL than males, if you look at sport that both genders play like football or basketball for various reasons.

Netball, as well as basketball, volleyball, football and rugby, are classified as level one sports - all pose a high risk of ACL injuries.

At an adolescent age females change the way they land then young women go through puberty and don't gain the testosterone that males do, so they must re-learn landing strategies.

Silver ferns captain Laura Langman and Elisapeta Toeava warming up before match

Silver ferns captain Laura Langman and Elisapeta Toeava warming up before match Photo: © www.Photosport.nz 2018

Hamstring strength is less in females and a wider pelvis both contribute to the way females land in sport.

"Whether the ligament is larger versus males there is also a link to hypermobility, women are more hypermobile and there can be hormonal links as well," said Kearney.

"There are lots of reasons why women are more susceptible... netball is classified as a level one sport which is the most high-risk sport that involves jumping, landing, cutting, changing direction.

"Netball world-wide is the riskiest ACL sport that you could play if you are a female."

What is being done to prevent the ACL injuries?

Normalising injury prevention from grassroots to elite level netball is an ongoing challenge for Kearney.

NetballSmart started in 2005 and is the official injury prevention programme of Netball New Zealand tailored to prepare players for the demands of the game. Within the last year ACC increased their funding to further engage and make a difference.

The programme has been introduced to the 'Future Ferns' project, and for social settings showing coaches that if enforced doesn't only decrease injuries but increases performance.

At an international level Kearney who served as the Silver Ferns physio worked tirelessly to prevent ACL injuries first hand knowing the injury can side-line a player for up to 12 months, or can even be career ending.

"For us its getting the word out we are working really hard to publicise it with six staff working with coaches throughout the country.

"The ACC stats would indicate we're starting to make a difference with our injuries in netball so we're on the right track.

"ACL injuries (in netball) are also very high media injuries - they're the ones that everyone knows about, yet a Crusaders winger ruptured his ACL a couple weeks back so it's not just netball with a high ACL injury rate," Kearney said.

Are workloads to blame?

Tactix midcourter Pedersen joins the bench with team-mate Temalisi Fakahokotau, the latter also ruptured her ACL at the same Silver Ferns training camp Pedersen attended.

Kearney, who has overlooked both Pedersen and Fakahokotau's injury, said sometimes luck plays a big part.

"Simplifying an ACL injury would be a one size fits all and it doesn't for example Erikana's foot got stuck on the ground and she couldn't rotate so as she went to change direction her knee rotated.

"The other thing you have to be mindful of is family history, if your parents have ruptured an ACL then potentially you are more likely to.

"Gone are the days of a quick run and a stretch, you need to be able to jump and land because that's physically preparing for you the demands of the game. If our athletes do that better, we decrease our ACL and overall injuries," Kearney said.

For helpful ways to prevent injuries visit NetballSmart's website here.