Nearly 60,000 sports-related hospitalisations per year: AIHW

Morgan Liotta

26/02/2020 3:42:44 PM

Men are disproportionately affected, but the impact of long-term injury is finally moving closer into the spotlight.

AFL players
Injuries on the football field contributed to the most frequent sports-related hospitalisations, findings from the latest AIHW report reveal.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report found 58,500 people were hospitalised for sports injury in 2016–17.
Of these, 42,000 males were hospitalised, compared to 16,500 females, with the most common age group being 15–24 years.
However, while it remains an ongoing issue, a recent Australian Journal of General Practice (AJGP) article has attempted to address three major challenges in sports medicine: identifying risks of sudden cardiac arrest, recognising a sports-related concussion, and attempting to eliminate doping violations in sport.
AJGP author Dr Shane Brun told newsGP these are significant areas in the primary care setting, and further education and risk mitigation are needed to prevent long-term harm.
‘These areas are topical [although] often not managed well or screened for properly,’ he said.
‘[For example] cardiac arrest we need to be very familiar with as doctors. In a recent FIFA study, they identified on average, one footballer per month had sudden cardiac arrest and died. Over the past 10 years, that’s 120 footballers.
‘Athletes are exerting themselves to a high extent – that’s often the fact that evokes these outcomes – whereas [other people may do] less physical activity so they won’t reach that level.
‘Is the incidence greater? Probably not – but it’s the higher heart rate.’
Dr Gill Cowen, sports doctor and Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Sport and Exercise Medicine network, says it’s important for GPs to provide athletes with cardiac issues guidance around safe levels of exercise.
‘For the vast majority of people, regular exercise should be encouraged and is safe,’ she told newsGP.
‘There is a very small proportion of the population with pre-existing cardiac issues where participation in competitive sport may increase their risk of a significant cardiac event.
‘GPs should advocate for an AED to be provided at all sporting events both at community and higher levels of sport.’
According to the AIHW report, the sports that most frequently led to hospitalisation were Australian Rules football, rugby and soccer, with fractures the most common form of injury, followed by intracranial injury. Most football injuries were to the hips and legs (30%), followed by the head and neck (25%).
An additional 7% of injuries (3800) resulted in an intracranial injury – this includes cases of concussion, and other traumatic brain injuries.  
Head injury in sport resulting in concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been found to have potentially long-lasting effects, and Dr Cowen is advocating for further research into this area to better understand the link between CTE and sports-related head injury.
‘This is a significant area of focus both in Australia and worldwide,’ she said.
‘The days of overlooking sports-related head injury are behind us. There is increasing awareness of sports-related concussion in the community as a result of media publicity and tools such as the HeadCheck app, Concussion Recognition Tool and concussion guidelines.’
Dr Cowen said it is common for patients to present to general practice requesting clearance to return to contact sport.
‘The consensus statement on concussion in sport helps with decision making regarding this, but all concussions should be managed on an individual patient basis,’ she said.
‘We await the updated consensus statement which will be published after the 2020 International Consensus Conference on Concussion, which will provide further up-to-date guidance for doctors.’
For a nation that loves sport, Australia’s participation contributes positively to a range of physical, mental and social health outcomes, but playing sport does not come without risk, the AIHW report states.
There are many ways to minimise physical and mental harm for people playing sport, according to Dr Cowen.
‘Sporting guidelines and rules are in place to protect those involved with the sport and as such should be adhered to,’ she said.
‘Programs such as the FIFA 11+ have been shown to reduce injury and are now being rolled out in a modified version in sports other than soccer.
‘Safe return to play post-injury often requires a multidisciplinary approach with doctors, physiotherapists, coaches, sports scientists and exercise physiologists, trainers and most importantly, the patient themselves all playing an important role.’
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