NetballSmart is an injury prevention programme that is giving us a little less to do at our Newmarket physiotherapy clinic in central Auckland. Obviously, treating sports injuries is a huge part of the everyday activities we carry out at our clinic but while it’s our business to do so, we appreciate initiatives like NetballSmart, the official injury prevention of Netball New Zealand. Anything that reduces injury risk, particularly among the sport’s youngest participants, has to be applauded.
NetballSmart has been around for a few years now and has the intention of preparing players for the dynamic movement skills of the game, improving their performance and decreasing injury risk. It’s working. Since 2014, there’s been a gradual decline in the rate of all netball injuries, and this has been noticed by ACC. They’ve recently increased their investment into the programme to $3.6 million over the next three years. When you see the still-alarming rate of serious knee and ankle injuries in netball players, you can see why.
While general injuries have declined in recent years, netball is still the biggest cause of female sport-related injury claims in New Zealand; in 2019, there were more than 25,000 ACC claims at a total cost of $30 million. Many of them were related to Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries. The ACL is the ligament that gives the knee the stability it needs and these types of injuries affect women and teenage girls more than men. Having said that, both sexes are prone to ACL injuries when playing sports that involve a lot of twisting and pivoting e.g. rugby, football and, of course, netball.
ACC statistics from between 2008 and 2017 showed there was an increase of 120% in the number of girls aged 15 to 19 requiring ACL reconstruction surgery. Meanwhile, a decade-long study showed an increasing number of teenage netball players faced long amounts of time away from their favourite sport after suffering ACL injuries.
NetballSmart’s Development Officers are a qualified group of physiotherapists and sports science graduates who run workshops and visit schools, clubs as part of their work. NetballSmart is slowly and surely making a difference. While other sporting codes in New Zealand are doing vaguely similar things, it would be great if there were more injury prevention programmes as well run, and as well funded. When other codes of all types show that same level of commitment, we will have less to do but as a team that believes prevention is better than cure, we’ll be happy all the same.