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Sports injuries in Australia

In Australia, almost 60,000 people are hospitalised due to a sports injury every year.

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Australia may be a nation of sports lovers, but we all know taking part doesn't come without its risks. In fact, research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that almost 60,000 over-15s were hospitalised due to a sports injury in the 2016–2017 period.

If you're interested in learning which sports are the riskiest, which injuries are most common and which Aussies are most likely to hurt themselves, you're in the right place. This guide will explain all that and more.

Which sports cause the most injuries in Australia?

The table below shows the top 10 sports which caused the most serious injuries in 2016–2017. The number of cases represents how many people stayed overnight in hospital for treatment.

We've split the table to show separate data for men and women, to give a more accurate representation of how injuries are impacting Aussies.

RankMenNumber of casesWomenNumber of cases
1Cycling5,062Equestrian activities1,873
2Australian rules football4,232Netball1,582
3Rugby4,052Cycling1,190
4Soccer4,035Soccer748
5Wheeled motor sports3,451Skiing, ice skating and snowboarding697
6Unspecified football3,112Recreational walking682
7Basketball1,940Roller sports679
8Roller sports1,860Dancing570
9Cricket1,108Australian rules football557
10Combative sports958Basketball527

Which sports are most dangerous?

A certain sport can cause more injuries than another, but still be less dangerous. That's because more people may be playing that sport on a regular basis, so there's a greater chance of someone being injured, compared to a less popular sport.

To find out which sports are the most dangerous in Australia, it's better to look at the rate of injuries per 100,000 participants. This gives a better idea of how risky a particular sport is.

RiskiestSportNumber of casesEstimated number of participantsRate of injury per 100,000 participants
1Wheeled motor sports3,091241,0001,283
2Rugby3,421289,7001,181
3Roller sports1,730147,2001,175
4Equestrian activities2,152205,2001,049
5Australian rules football3,904502,500777
6Skiing, ice skating and snowboarding1,328282,200411
7Water skiing411111,500369
8Soccer3,6441,129,900323
9Hockey525214,500245
10Basketball1,761724,400243

*Figures represent overnight hospital patients in 2016–2017

Which sports injuries are most common?

Fractures are by far the most common sports injury in Australia, accounting for over half of all sports injuries in both men and women. The table below gives a breakdown of some of the most common sports injuries. Toggle through to see how they differ between men and women.

InjuryNumber of cases% of cases
Fracture30,23251.7%
Soft-tissue injury10,16617.40%
Intracranial injury3,8176.50%
Open wound3,2935.60%
Dislocation2,2583.90%
Superficial injury1,7242.90%
Internal organ or vessel of trunk9861.70%
Poisoning or toxic effect1880.30%
Burn1450.20%
InjuryNumber of cases% of all cases
Fracture21,68951.60%
Soft-tissue injury6,89216.40%
Intracranial injury2,8676.80%
Open wound2,5476.10%
Dislocation1,7874.30%
Superficial injury1,2312.90%
Internal organ or vessel of trunk8462.00%
Burn1310.30%
Poisoning or toxic effect1260.30%
InjuryNumber of cases% of all cases
Fracture8,54251.80%
Soft-tissue injury3,27419.80%
Intracranial injury9505.80%
Open wound7464.50%
Superficial injury4933.00%
Dislocation4712.90%
Internal organ or vessel of trunk1400.80%
Poisoning or toxic effect620.40%
Burn140.10%
*Figures represent overnight hospital patients in 2016–2017

Which body parts are most likely to be hurt?

Most serious sporting injuries are related to the hip and lower limb, excluding the ankle and foot. The table below shows a breakdown of which body parts Aussies are frequently injuring while playing sport.

Body partNumber of cases% of cases
Hip and lower limb16,49128.2%
Shoulder and upper limb14,10624.1%
Head and neck12,01020.5%
Wrist and hand7,11012.2%
Trunk5,5569.5%
Ankle and foot1,9183.3%
Body partNumber of cases% of all cases
Hip and lower limb11,04326.3%
Shoulder and upper limb10,02523.9%
Head and neck9,00621.4%
Wrist and hand5,66713.5%
Trunk3,9249.3%
Ankle and foot1,3733.3%
Body partNumber of cases% of all cases
Hip and lower limb5,44833%
Shoulder and upper limb4,08024.7%
Head and neck3,00418.2%
Trunk1,6329.9%
Wrist and hand1,4438.7%
Ankle and foot5453.3%
*Figures represent overnight hospital patients in 2016–2017

Who is most likely to be injured while playing sport?

Men aged 15–24 are most likely to be hospitalised due to a sports injury in Australia. The table below shows a breakdown of which age groups sustain the most injuries, as well as the number of injuries per 100,000 participants.

Use the tabs at the top of the table to see how the statistics vary between the general population, men and women.

AgeCasesRate per 100,000 participants
0–1412,092262.5
15–2417,126537.6
25–4418,129262.9
45–647,658128.1
65+3,49293.6
AgeCasesRate per 100,000 participants
0–148,598363.6
15–2413,318817.3
25–4413,465392.1
45–644,778163.1
65+1,834105.1
AgeCasesRate per 100,000 participants
0–143,493155.9
15–243,808244.8
25–444,664134.8
45–642,88094.5
65+1,65883.5
*Figures represent overnight hospital patients in 2016–2017

How often do sports injuries keep people off work?

Research from Finder suggests that over 2 million people had to take some time off work due to a sporting injury between 2012 and 2017. Half a million were forced to take unpaid time off and 178,000 had to leave the workforce entirely.

Remember, the data used in this article only reflects sports injuries which required an overnight stay in hospital. It's likely there are many thousands more which saw people discharged within a day or which only required a doctor's appointment, but many still have kept people off work.

How can income protection insurance help?

Income protection insurance is designed to pay you a portion of your typical earnings, if you're ever too sick or injured to work. For people who play sport regularly, that could mean a financial safety net in case you're hit by a bad tackle, take a tumble on the pitch or get knocked off your bike.

Remember though, some more dangerous sports, like motor racing, may not be covered and waiting periods may apply.

What about sports injuries and kids?

According to a 2018 study by Macquarie University, around 13,000 children are hospitalised a year with a sports injury. It's estimated that these sports injuries cost the Australian healthcare system around $40 million a year.

Team ball sports are the biggest cause of injury, accounting for 43% of all injuries. Second is cycling (22%). Boys are much more likely to need to go to hospital - they make up 75% of all sports related hospitalisations - and are more likely to be injured while playing team ball sports (49%). Girls though, have higher rates of injuries from horse-riding (13%) and gymnastics (7%).

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