Millions of Australians participate in sport and physical activity. Nine out of 10 Australians aged 15 or over participated in some form of sport or physical activity at least once during 2020–21, and 6 out of 10 participated at least 3 times a week, according to the Australian Sports Commission’s AusPlay survey (ASC, 2021).
While participation has many health and social benefits, it also involves a risk of injury. The AusPlay survey suggests that about 19% of participants in 2022 were injured while participating (ASC, 2023).
Sometimes, an injury will lead to hospital admission. This report analyses the 66,500 sports injuries that were serious enough to require a person to stay in hospital in 2020–21. It looks at the demographics of those injured and the types of injuries that led to hospitalisation. 10-year trends, seasonal differences and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions are explored.
Participation and injury rates are presented for the most popular sports. Selected sports are discussed in more detail, including the various football codes, wheeled motor sports, netball, and cricket.
The report does not include information on people who sought treatment at hospital emergency departments, general practitioner clinics, sports medicine centres, or from allied health practitioners such as physiotherapists. National data for these services are not readily available at this time and are part of data development efforts under the National Sports Injury Data Strategy.
This report complements other studies by the AIHW into the economics of participation in sport and by others referenced in the Clearinghouse for Sport. This work aligns with the National Sport Research Agenda.
Data sources and limitations
This report uses admitted patient care data from the AIHW’s National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD) and sports participation estimates from the Australian Sports Commission’s (ASC) AusPlay survey (ASC, 2021).
National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD)
Data about sports injury hospitalisations are drawn from admitted patient care records in the NHMD. If enough detail about the cause of the injury was obtained from the patient, then a particular type of sports activity will be assigned.
A single injury can lead to a person having more than one episode of care in hospital. The methodology for this report was designed to minimise double counting, where possible.
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.
Every year, the AusPlay survey asks a sample of 20,000 Australians about their participation in sports and physical activity. The survey results include estimates of the number of participants in a range of activities. This report only includes estimates for participants aged 15 and over.
These data sources do not fully capture either sports injury hospitalisations or sports participation in Australia. For hospital admissions, injuries are attributed to a sports activity if clinicians are informed about the activity and record it, but this will not always happen. Therefore, the sports injuries reported here are likely to be an undercount. The AusPlay survey does not distinguish between organised sports and recreational participation. As a result, rates of injury per participant in each sport should be treated as estimates, and comparisons made with this in mind.
What we don’t know
This report only includes injuries that were serious enough to require a stay in hospital. This excludes injuries that were treated in the emergency department only, at a GP clinic, or by an allied health practitioner such as a physiotherapist, because there is no national dataset for these services.
It is likely that only a small proportion of sporting injuries lead to a stay in hospital, and these are typically more severe injuries. The AusPlay survey estimated that around 19% of participants in 2022 were injured while participating (ASC, 2023). A New South Wales Population Health Survey from 2005 estimated that less than 3% of organised sport injuries in persons aged 16 and over lead to a hospital admission (Mitchell et al. 2008).
It is also possible that many injuries that develop over time might have been caused by sports participation, including chronic injuries, but were not directly linked to a particular sport. If a person seeks treatment months or years after they played sport, they may not report the connection between their injury and a sport to their clinician, or it may not be recorded.
The AIHW is working with the Australian Sports Commission to improve the information about sports injury under the National Sports Injury Data Strategy.
For more on the scope, accuracy, and comparability of these data sets, see the technical notes.
Australian Sports Commission (ASC) 2021. AusPlay. Canberra: Sport Australia. Viewed 4 January 2023.
ASC 2023. AusPlay – Injury from sport and physical activity in Australia. Canberra: Australian Sports Commission.
Mitchell R, Boufous S, & Finch CF 2008. Sport/leisure injuries in New South Wales: Trends in sport/leisure injury hospitalisations (2003-2005) and the prevalence of non-injury hospitalisations (2005). Sydney: New South Wales Injury Risk Management Research Centre.
The next page presents data about sports injury hospitalisations in 2020–21.