Is korfball actually bad for knees and ankles? What does the research say?

Netball is one of the largest team sports in Australia with over 1.2 million men, women and children play every weeksupported by a nationwide footprint of more than 4,000 community clubs.

Around the world more than 20 million people play korfball in more than 70 countries† And it’s not just for young women; men play in mixed and men’s only leagues, 5-7 year olds play in the NETSetGO program and older players play in the Walking Netball competition

Despite its popularity, netball constantly gets a bad reputation for joints. Time and again we hear patients in physical therapy clinics say, “I have bad knees because I used to play netball” or “I’m afraid of letting my kid play basketball — isn’t it terrible for the joints?”

However, the study reveals a more nuanced story.

Yes, there is a risk of injuring yourself while playing netball, but the overall risk of serious injury is relatively small – and far greater than the benefit of being fit, active and being part of a team.

What are the knee and ankle risks in korfball?

Unlike other field-based sports, netball has strict regulations on footwork.

Players can only take an extra one and a half steps after they have received the ball.

They are also restricted to certain areas of the field depending on which position they are playing in.

The sudden braking required of netball players requires good strength, body control and footwork.

A recent systematic review reports that in individuals over the age of 15, netball injuries mainly occur in the lower extremities, particularly the ankle and knee. Ligament sprains are the most common injury.

Ankle injuries are more common than knee injuries, according to the systematic review. And younger players tend to experience more upper limb injuries (such as fractures) than lower limb injuries.

There are more injuries in matches than in training. Pain at the front of the kneecap is also very common in adolescent girls who participate in jumping and pivot sports such as netball.

Insurance claim data indicates damage to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligamentan important stabilizer of the knee) accounts for approximately 13% of the most serious netball injuries occurring in the emergency room.

This equates to only one injury per 2500 participants. However, this figure probably underestimates the true injury rate, as many people with these injuries go directly to their GP or local physiotherapist (rather than to the hospital).

The limited data available makes it difficult to accurately estimate the injury rate in community netball. But in comparable sports on the field (such as handball or basketball), the ACL injury rate is: one in every 100-200 players per calendar year

Although ACL injuries are rare, they are a serious injury that often requires time off for work or study and is costly to the individual and the healthcare system through an increased risk of arthritis.

So is netball horribly worse than other sports for the risk of joint injuries? We don’t have enough data to answer this question conclusively. But what we can say based on the limited evidence available is that the overall risk of knee and joint injuries in community netball is low.

Can anything be done to reduce injury risk for netball players?

Yes! There is great evidence injury prevention programs workreducing ACL injuries in female athletes by up to 67%, other knee injuries by up to 50% and all lower limb injuries by 30%.

Netball even has its own injury prevention program known as: the KNEE program (KNEE stands for Knee Injury Prevention for Netball Players to Improve Performance and Extend Game).

The KNEE program is a warm-up program on the field aimed at all levels of korfball. It aims to improve the way players run, change direction, jump and land (because this is the number of knee and ankle injuries).

Pain in the front of the kneecap (patellofemoral pain), there is also great proof those exercises that strengthen the hip and knee muscles – combined with advice on activity change – can help.

In adolescents, patellofemoral pain is common during periods of rapid growth, but it is important to consult a health professional for exercises and advice as one in three Continued to experience pain 12 months later.

Yes, there are risks with korfball, but the benefits far outweigh them

As a fast-moving, non-contact sport, netball is a great way to stay active, improve hand-eye coordination and reap the physical, mental and social benefits of participating in a team sport.

Being physically fit and strong can improve your health and your risk of disease

Knees especially like to be trained; recreational runners have healthier knees than those who lead a sedentary life

Participation in sports is especially important for adolescent girls, who stop exercising on alarming rates

Girls who do exercise have a more positive body image and a better state of mental well-being

Being part of a team also helps girls enjoy shared experiences, reduce isolation and be part of something bigger than themselves.

Many sports offer similar benefits, but all sports have some risks. If you or your kids love netball, keep playing – the overall benefits of netball outweigh any potential risks.

Importantly, netball in Australia can serve as a vehicle for empowerment, providing strong female role models to inspire current and future generations.

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