A Multidisciplinary Sports Physio Practice
Based at The Mater Clinic, North Sydney

Netball's battle of wounded knee

Madison Robinson

Our resident Australian Diamonds Netball physio, ACL Guru and all round extraordinaire, Alanna has been making amazing programs to prevent and protect knees around Australia.

13 April 2015
By Linda Pearce - Sydney Morning Herald

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A week after Diamonds star Madi Robinson became the latest victim of what is colloquially known as "netballer's knee" comes news of a ground-breaking preventative program that aims to reduce lower leg injuries in the notoriously high-risk sport by up to 70 per cent.

The Australian team's head physiotherapist, Alanna Antcliff, her predecessor Steve Hawkins and strength and conditioning coach Leigh Smith have developed the resource, which will be implemented via a mobile platform accessible to all elite, recreational and junior players ahead of this year's Netball World Cup in Sydney.

Research has shown that 70 per cent of all anterior cruciate ligament ruptures are non-contact, as Robinson's was late in the Melbourne Vixens' round-six loss to the West Coast Fever, and thus involve what Antcliff describes as "modifiable risk factors". Studies also reveal women to be 4–6 times more likely than men to suffer ACL tears, due to a combination of hormonal, anatomical and other factors, with younger females particularly vulnerable.

"It's almost been considered a rite of passage in some ways, the netballer's knee," Antcliff told Fairfax Media. "Everyone knows about knees and netballers generally, and it was really just an opportunity to try and do something preventative rather than reactive."

After years of observing junior netballers' landing techniques, the catalyst was a fill-in role at her local Sydney club — Antcliff said she "spent the whole morning almost fainting from horror at the way all these kids were landing and moving" — as well as a response to a run of ACL injuries in the elite pathway throughout 2014 that incited interest from Netball Australia.

The benefits, ideally, will be felt at all levels of a popular participation sport that requires fast stop-start movements, jumping and changes of direction. Similar programs have been shown to cut the ACL injury rate by as much as 70 per cent in soccer and European handball, for example, but none until now have been netball-specific. 

This one, which has Australian Sports Commission backing for the NA-funded content, is designed as a warm-up for either on-court training or match play, replacing more traditional routines by specifically targeting landings, deceleration and changes of direction as well as efficient movement patterns. Many elements are already incorporated into the Diamonds and ANZ Championship team programs.

"Madi is an exceptional athlete who would have been doing appropriate landing control work, however as prepared as you can be not all injuries are preventable," says Antcliff, who has worked with the Diamonds since 2011.

She says that although pitched as ACL reduction strategies, the programs have also been found to reduce the total number of lower limb injuries, including common ankle and foot problems. "No program like this exists for netball, so it is a world-first in that respect, and it allows for junior and recreational level athletes to tap into some of what's accessible for the elite level.

"If we can get the girls doing these correct motor patterns from a young age, then they develop their skills on a solid movement base, rather than on awkward movement patterns which are higher-risk. If we can change them from a young age, I absolutely think it has far-reaching potential for lower limb injuries in general."

Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander will announce the preliminary squad for August's Netball World Cup on Wednesday - without Robinson, her star wing attack, but with hope that netball's ACL injury rates will eventually decline.


Linda Pearce - Sydney Morning Herald

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