Concussion rates much higher for AFLW players

Collingwood player Emma Grant is the human face of a statistic that suggests AFLW players are almost twice as likely to be concussed as their male counterparts.

Grant, a 30-year-old school teacher from Bendigo who has played for the Magpies since the beginning of the AFLW in 2017, has used her social media channels in recent weeks to vividly describe the symptoms of a concussion she suffered during the pre-season.

Collingwood’s Emma Grant has been detailing the symptoms of a concussion she suffered.Credit:Fairfax Media

It was, she said in an Instagram story, "like living in a thick fog. It's scary".

Grant had experienced all the classic symptoms associated with a lingering concussion.

“I think it’s really important to talk about – it’s not a broken leg, I don’t have a scar for you all to see," she wrote.

“… Headaches, irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances and sensitivity to light and noise are my main symptoms."

She has been sidelined all season and on Thursday posted a picture of the SCAT5 test that concussed players are required to pass before resuming training. She is one of six AFLW players concussed so far in 2020.

As the AFL came to terms with the fact one of the code's greatest players, Graham 'Polly' Farmer, had been diagnosed posthumously with CTE – the disease caused by repeated brain trauma – The Age obtained figures that reveal AFLW players are at higher risk of concussion than AFL players.

In 2018 the incidence of concussion for AFLW players was 17.5 per 1000 player hours, while AFL players were concussed at a rate of 7.5 times per 1000 player hours that year.

The higher prevalence for women has led to further investigation into why, with one industry source suggesting tackling techniques were a factor in some concussions in the AFLW's first season, but there is significant research indicating gender is a potential factor in the different rates.

In 2019 the incidence of concussion for AFLW players dropped by 33 per cent to 11.5 per 1000 player hours and although the AFL figures are unavailable for comparison at this stage, there are hopes the gap between the competitions in terms of concussion incidence might narrow.

AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh said ensuring there was appropriate medical support for players in the AFLW competition remained on the AFL and the players' association's agenda.

"A competition review is going on at the moment that takes in all parts of the AFLW competition and support is part of that," Marsh said.

The AFLW adheres to similar concussion protocols as the men, with players needing to be symptom-free at least five days before a game before being declared available to play. The protocol says: "the graduated loading program following sports-related concussion should be commenced 24 hours after the player has recovered clinically and should be conducted over a minimum of five days, in accordance with the current consensus guidelines".

The AFL has also tightened up rules to reduce head-high contact although no AFLW player has received a suspension since round four of 2019.

All AFLW players cited by the match review officer in 2020 have earned reprimands.

Sources indicated more measures needed to be put in place to ensure clubs are able to provide the same resources to their AFLW players as to the men.

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