Sports injury hospitalisations
There were 66,500 sports injury hospitalisations reported in Australia in 2020–21.
After a dip in 2019–20 related to COVID-19 lockdowns, the rate of sports injury hospitalisations rebounded higher in 2020–21 (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Sports injury hospitalisations, by sex, 2011–12 to 2020–21
For more detail, see data tables B3–4.
Males aged 15–19 are most likely to be hospitalised
There were more than twice as many cases of sports injury hospitalisation for males (47,000) than for females (19,500) in 2020–21.
Males had a higher rate of hospitalisation than females in every age group except the 70–74 and 80–84 age groups. Rates rise during childhood and peak in the teenage years, with a higher peak for males. The highest rates were in:
- the 15–19 age group for males (1,100 cases per 100,000)
- the 10–14 age group for females (350 cases per 100,000) (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Sports injury hospitalisations, by age and sex, 2020–21
Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.
For more detail, see data tables A1 and A20.
Place of occurrence
As you might expect, the largest proportion of these injuries occurred at dedicated sports areas. For sports injury hospitalisations in 2020–21, the place of occurrence was specified in over two thirds of cases (69%). Of these specified cases:
- 6 out of 10 occurred at a sports or athletic area (61% or 28,000), including
- over a third at an outdoor ground (35% or 16,300)
- almost 1 in 10 at an indoor hall (7% or 3,300)
- more than 1 in 10 occurred on a street or highway (12% or 5,300).
For more detail, see data table A7.
Types of injury sustained
A person can be hospitalised with multiple injuries, some of which will be more serious than others. This report only presents data about the main injury – known as the principal diagnosis – additional concurrent injuries are not included.
This report discusses common injury types including:
Fracture: A partial or complete break in a bone
Soft-tissue injury: Sprain or strain of muscles, ligaments or joints
Open wound: A break in the skin such as a cut, puncture or bite
Intracranial injury: Injury inside the skull (often a concussion)
Dislocation: A separation of different bones where they join
Superficial injury: An injury to the skin surface such as abrasion, bruising or blistering.
For more detail, see the appendix tables to the technical notes.
Fractures are the most common injury
In just over half of all sports injury hospitalisations in 2020–21, the main injury was a fracture (53% or 35,100). Soft–tissue injuries were the next most common (17% of cases or 11,100) (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Type of injury as a percentage of all sports injury hospitalisations, 2020–21
Note: Type of injury is derived from the principal diagnosis.
Source: AIHW NHMD.
The most common fractures were of the arm or shoulder (39% of fractures or 13,700 cases), followed by a fracture to a leg or hip (23% of fractures or 8,100 cases). 68% of soft tissue injuries were to the leg or hip (7,600 cases).
For more detail, see data tables A2–6.
Most hospitalisations for intracranial injuries (injuries inside the skull) in sports (83%) were concussions in 2020–21. Concussions are usually caused by a knock to the head but can also be caused by a blow to the body (Concussion in Sport Australia, 2022).
There has been growing concern in Australia and internationally about the incidence of sport-related concussion and potential health ramifications for athletes (Concussion in Sport Australia, 2019). While short-term symptoms are reversible, a single knock to the head can have serious consequences in later life (Queensland Brain Institute, 2021).
Concussion can occur in nearly every sport, not just contact sports. There were almost 3,100 hospitalisations for concussion caused by sports in 2020–21. Of these:
- around 2,200 were in males, and 900 were in females
- about 1,300 occurred while playing some form of football
- about 500 occurred while cycling.
For more detail, see data tables A15–18.
Falls and transport accidents cause over half of all injuries
Falls and transport accidents caused over half (57%) of all sports injury hospitalisations in 2020–21. Falls include falls on the same level (13% or 8,300 cases), falls involving an object (12% or 7,700 cases) and falls involving another person (7.2% or 4,800 cases). Transport accidents include road transport (20% or 13,400 cases) such as bicycle crashes, and other land transport including horses (4.1% or 2,700 cases) (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Selected causes of injury as a proportion of sports injury hospitalisations, 2020–21
Source: AIHW NHMD.
For more detail, see data tables A11–12.
Emergency admissions are more common than elective
Hospitalisations are classed as emergency admissions if the patient requires admission within 24 hours. About two-thirds of sports injury hospitalisations in 2020–21 (69%) were emergencies. The proportion that was emergencies varied by sport, ranging from 89% of hospitalisations for equestrian activity injuries, to 39% for netball injuries.
For more detail, see data table A24.
Winter sports create a peak in admissions
Date of admission data from four years of sports injuries suggests some patterns over the year. Admissions for males in particular show a rise during the winter sport season and a dip in the summer months.
In March 2020 the first lockdowns and social distancing measures associated with COVID-19 interrupted team sports participation and created a dip in hospitalisations that lasted several months. (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Sports injury hospitalisations by sex, by month of admission, 2017–18 to 2020–21
For more detail, see data table B1.
The traditional seasons for many types of sport are reflected in their patterns of injury hospitalisation over the year. Winter sports (such as football and skiing) have a winter peak, summer sports (such as cricket and swimming) have a summer peak and sports that are less seasonal overall (such as basketball and motor sports) have a steadier flow of hospitalisations over the year (Figure 6).
Figure 6: Sports injury hospitalisations by main season, by month of admission, 2017–18 to 2020–21
For more detail, see data table B3.
Another interesting picture emerges when activities are grouped based on whether they can be done solo: there was a rise in injuries from solo activities such as cycling and running after March of 2020 and levels then generally remained higher than before throughout 2020–21 (Figure 7). Cycling is examined in more detail in its own section.
Figure 7: Sports injury hospitalisations by type of activity, by month of admission, 2017–18 to 2020–21
Concussion in Sport Australia 2019. Concussion in Sport Australia position statement. Sport Australia. Viewed 1 Feb 2022.
Concussion in Sport Australia 2022. Concussion in sport website. Viewed 1 Feb 2022.
Queensland Brain Institute 2022. How long does concussion last: long-term effects. University of Queensland. Viewed 1 Feb 2022.
The next page examines participation and rates of injury in sports in Australia.