Injury Prevention And Massage In AFL Football

With hamstring and groin injuries being the 2nd most common injuries in the AFL (Orchard Report 2013), everyone involved in sports medicine is continually trying to find ways to help prevent these injuries. I am involved in football in many forms from helping coach my kids footy, to offering physio advice from amateur to professional levels. At every level we are offering some form of prevention.

One aspect of injury prevention is the screening of players to help identify those at risk of potentially developing problems.  Every one has some variations in the screens they perform but most cover the same principles of checking muscle length, joint mobility, muscle strength/endurance, functional movement patterns and balance/coordination factors.

Of the above factors, managing muscle length and tone around the hips and pelvis remains an integral part of injury prevention in all levels of AFL players.   There are several authors citing the relevance of hip joint mobility and muscle balance around the hip and pelvis in reducing injury risk (Kemp et al  2012 ; Retchford et al 2013 ; Verrall et al)

Once we have identified these muscle restrictions then it is imperative that management occurs to help reduce the risk.  

A simple example would be from a player who has reported groin tightness was identified on a simple Thomas test screen to have increased tension in his adductor magnus/longus and hip flexor when compared to the other side and to the previous weeks test.

Management of this player could involve several options; massage, stretching, heat pack, acupuncture/dry needling, or trigger point therapy. All aim to reduce the muscle tone and increase the muscle length back to more symmetrical and normal level for that player.

Techniques vary within practitioners but once you have released the muscle you can retest the length and demonstrate to the player the effectiveness in improving the movement.

Often you will get instant feedback of “that feels better” or “that’s let go now” and the feeling of more freedom around the hip with movement.  Players regularly feel significant benefit of improving hip flexion/extension/abduction and rotation prior to a training session and game.  Often the outcome of feeling free through the hips and lighter with a leg swing or knee drive is one of the better outcomes of treatment.

However, that’s only one piece of the puzzle in preventing injury but it helps add to the plan of management.


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