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Which sports send the most Australians to hospital?

16 June, 2016
Sports injuries – horse racing
The benefits of playing sport are well-documented, from contributing to the economy to keeping us fit. But while sport can make us healthier and reduce our health care costs, some sports can be dangerous and result in serious injury. 

Broken necks, catastrophic head injuries, cardiac arrests and even death on rare occasion; these injuries are the ugly side of sport and are rarely talked about. Experts say not enough is being done to collect data about these incidents and that failure could be costing Australian lives. 

So what sports put you most at risk of injury or harm?

What the headlines tell us

Sports injuries – cricketOver the past couple of years, serious incidents affecting well-known athletes have highlighted the dangers of some sports. 

Cricketer Phil Hughes

When 25-year-old Australian cricketer Phil Hughes got struck in the neck by a bouncer at the SCG in November 2014, his injuries were fatal. While this particular incident has been described as a “freak accident”, a number of other fatalities during cricket matches have been recorded globally. Some people even believe that Frederick, Prince of Wales, died after being hit by a cricket ball in 1760. 

Drag racer Phil Lamattina

Australian Lamattina was driving in the qualifying round of the Fuchs Winternationals in June 2015 when his car had a chassis failure. The 39-year-old survived his vehicle “splitting in two”, but suffered a shattered vertebrae as a result of the crash. He was also injured in a similar accident in 2007.

In March 2016, race car driver Fernando Alonso said he was lucky to be alive following a collision during the opening of the Melbourne Grand Prix. 

Rugby Union player Nicholas Tooth

25-year-old Nicholas Tooth collapsed moments after making a tackle in a rugby union game in April 2015. He suffered a horrific head injury after hitting his head on an opponent’s shoulder and died in hospital the following day. 

Sports injury statistics

Sports injuries – snowboardingThe cost of treating amateur and professional sportspeople in Australia is estimated to be $2 billion a year. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) report on Australian sport injury hospitalisations, 36,000 Australians aged 15 years and over were hospitalised in 2011-2012 because of sporting injuries. About two-thirds of all people hospitalised were aged under 35 and 75% were men. 

The AIHW report states more people are taken to hospital for injuries sustained playing Australian Rules football and soccer than any other sport, but both still remain “safe” team sports when participation rate is taken into account. 

Between 2011 and 2012, more than 3000 Australians were admitted to hospital following an Australian Rules incident, but with more than 13,000 clubs and 22 members per team, there are a lot of people playing the sport! Soccer has by far the highest participation rate in Australia, with almost 500,000 Australians enjoying a game. 

So when you consider numbers of participation, the most dangerous sports turn out to be motorsports, ice and snow sports and, surprisingly, golf. Golf is high on the list for a non-contact sport and the mean number of days in hospital resulting from an injury. Not surprisingly, motorsports rank highly for severity of injuries. Netball and cricket are deemed among the safest, certainly when it comes to “risk of life”. 

A report published in the Medical Journal of Australia also found jockeying to be the country's most dangerous sport due to the severity of injuries and the occurrence of intracranial injuries. Recently, four female jockeys lost their lives in riding accidents, renewing the debate over riders’ safety. Most insurance companies won’t insure horse racing because of the danger brought on by the combination of speed, minimal protection, tight racing and hard ground. 

And then there’s rock fishing, which has seen at least 68 deaths in the last five years in Australia, with almost all victims not wearing life jackets. There is currently an inquest into the dangers of rock fishing exploring how to make it safer for participants. 

Benefits of sport

So, considering the risk of injury posed by some sports, should you stop playing? The reality is that sport is generally more beneficial than harmful and while care is sometimes needed, playing sport is almost always better than playing no sport at all. For example, playing sport:
  • Helps develop a sense of achievement and greater self-image
  • Helps reduce body fat and controls your body weight
  • Helps you to meet people with similar interests
  • Allows you to experience the highs and lows of both winning and losing
  • Promotes better sleep
  • Has a positive effect on the immune system
  • Relieves anxiety, depression, anger and stress
  • Boosts energy levels
  • Helps strengthen bones
When deciding what sport you want to play, weigh up the dangers and assess if you are prepared to take the risk. If not, take a look at a gentler, “safer” sport or try to find ways in which to make your chosen sport less risky. Sometimes, a little care and an awareness of the dangers is all that’s needed. 

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