Revolutionising ACL research and recovery for female athletes will be Bourne’s legacy

Australia has the highest rates of ACL reconstruction in the world, and female athletes are facing a knee injury epidemic.

For a professional athlete, an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture is not just a painful blow to the knee, but often their career and quality of life.

Dr Matthew Bourne has been awarded a prestigious Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship (mid-career). Image: Queensland Government

Despite much of the research around ACL tear being male-centric, Dr Matthew Bourne from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland said ACL ruptures occur 3-6 times more frequently in female athletes than they do in males.

Dr Bourne is passionate about addressing this discrepancy, having been awarded a competitive two-year Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship (mid-career) for his project ‘Applying sports-tech to prevent knee injuries in Queensland’s female athletes.’

Partnering with world-leading sports technology company, VALD Performance, he is using cutting-edge human measurement technology to preserve the precious connective tissue in the centre of the knee, and at the centre of many “catastrophic” injuries.

“I think a lot of people are unaware of how big the issue really is,” Dr Bourne said.

“In recent years, the success of Queensland’s female athletes on the world-stage has fuelled an extraordinary rise in the professionalism and profile of female sports, but our female athletes are facing a knee injury epidemic.”

Australia ranks as having the highest rates of ACL reconstruction in the world, but Dr Bourne said despite the great surgeons operating in this space, the consequences of surgery often leave athletes with long-term performance deficits.

“Two in three female athletes will not return to their pre-injury levels of sport within 12 months and about 25% reinjure their ACL in that period,” he said.

“Compounding that, 50-90% will develop knee osteoarthritis in the subsequent 10-15 years, which is a leading cause of long-term disability.”

Dr Bourne said one of the many barriers for high-performance female athletes includes under representation in sports-science literature, limiting “the ability of coaches and practitioners to implement an evidence-based approach to their training and rehabilitation.”

Having collaborated with VALD from its inception to growing global success, Dr Bourne is applying revolutionary human measurement technology to test characteristics such as strength and biomechanics.

VALD’s technology will measure the strength and biomechanics of athletes.

Examples of the testing technology includes the ‘Forceframe’ and ‘Nordbord’, designed to measure the strength of hip and knee muscles, and ‘ForceDecks’ to measure how much force athletes produce when they jump.

Other devices such as ‘HumanTrak’ will measure the athlete’s movements, or biomechanics, during hopping and jumping.

These key tests support the project’s priority: to pinpoint female athletes most at risk of injury and optimise rehabilitation outcomes.

“It is likely we are failing to identify and retain talent and maximise the performance potential of our female athletes, which will no doubt draw more attention in the lead up to the Olympics,” he said.

“This project aims to address these gaps and contribute towards developing a high quality, tech-driven evidence-base to guide training for performance and knee injury prevention in Queensland’s female athletes.”

Griffith University is building on its reputation as a leader in the female athlete and sports-science space, reinforced by collaboration with industry trailblazers.

“One of our great strengths at Griffith is being able to partner with industry, in this case a world-leading sports tech company, and generate outcomes that address an area of national priority,” Dr Bourne said.

Dr Bourne’s findings will guide the development of injury prevention programs specifically designed for female athletes, delivering significant social, health and economic outcomes for Queensland.