A new training program devised by researchers at The University of Western Australia has significantly reduced the risk of knee injuries among the Australian Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning women's hockey team, the Hockeyroos.
Researchers Assistant Professor Cyril Donnelly, Associate Professor Jacqueline Alderson, Emeritus Professor Bruce Elliott and Gillian Weir, from UWA's School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, began working with the 30-member Hockeyroos squad in early 2013 after five athletes suffered anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in one season.
Ms Weir, a PhD candidate, said the rate of ACL injury among the Hockeyroos was high compared to other team sports such as soccer, which reported 1.13 such injuries per team each year. The AFL's 2013 injury report revealed there were 23 knee reconstructions performed on AFL players last year following serious knee injury and the rate of ACL injury was 0.9 injuries per club.
"Australia currently has the highest ACL rates in the world, with the majority occurring during non-contact change of direction or landing sporting tasks, which means that these injuries can be prevented," she said.
Ms Weir said ACL injury risk and the biomechanical factors that contributed to this risk were influenced by an athlete's technique during dynamic change of direction sporting movements.
"Hip and trunk neuromuscular training can be used to improve the dynamic control of the trunk and hip as well as support the knee from external loading, subsequently reducing ACL injury risk during sporting movements," she said.
With great support from head coach Adam Commens and high performance director Trish Heberle, and in collaboration with medical and coaching staff Kate Starre (Strength and Conditioning) and Jen Cooke (Physiotherapist) from Hockey Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport, the UWA researchers devised a nine-week training program for the Hockeyroos to reduce their risk of ACL injury, with athletes tested before and after the training program.
"We tested 16 athletes at the sports biomechanics lab at UWA where we measured muscle activation, joint angles and forces during a number of change of direction running and jumping tasks," Ms Weir said.
"The intervention was successful in modifying the biomechanical risk factors associated with ACL injury. Following training we found a 30 per cent increase in gluteal muscle activation and a 10 per cent increase in the forces at the hip, which were transferred away from the knee - all desirable in reducing risk of injury."
Four of the 16 who were tested had above average loading at the knee before testing, which was then dramatically reduced after the training. Ms Weir said there had not been a single non-contact ACL injury within the team since they had taken part in the training program, as part of their regular pre and in-season training. They were tested in Liverpool after their gold medal performance at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Assistant Professor Donnelly received a UWA Research Collaboration grant with Mark Robinson of Liverpool John Moores University and Scott Delp of Stanford University to enable him to develop the project and create an international biomechanical database.