People and Places
Tess takes on sports injury prevention research
by Mornington Peninsula Magazine

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Mount Martha resident Tess Rolley is on a mission. This Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science (Honours) graduate at Deakin University has been snapped up by the Victorian Institute of Sport, is set to begin her PhD in neurocognition and biomechanics in July, and has hopes of working closely with the AFLW’s Geelong team. That’s just for starters.

At the tender age of 24, the world of sports injury prevention – specifically anterior cruciate ligament injuries and concussion in AFLW players – is where Tess wants to be. Having played netball, basketball and tennis, swum, and eventually rowing her way through secondary school at Toorak College, Tess explains: “I’ve always loved sport and grew up going to the footy with my family.

“I began researching ACL injuries in the women’s football league and found that women are nine times more likely to sustain an ACL injury than men while playing football. The reasons are multifactorial and include structural differences and hormonal influences. We may not be able to change those things, but we can change how the women in the AFLW move, which may lead to reducing the risk of ACL injury.

“A key finding of my research was that the most common injury scenario was during reactive defensive tasks. Focusing on changing how AFLW players move in this scenario may be beneficial in reducing the alarming ACL injury rate.

The second most common injury in women football players is concussion, which is 1.5 times more likely to occur than in the men’s league. My PhD will be specifically about this. It’s exciting because it’s a new space and not much is known about the relationship between a concussion and subsequent ACL injury, which I am keen to look into. Obviously how we move is triggered by brain activity. Trauma or a head knock could potentially change the way we move, which could lead to further injury like an ACL.”

Exciting much? Before beginning this incredibly important research that may revolutionise injury prevention in the AFLW, Tess is spending six months as head of sports science in the rowing department at the Victorian Institute of Sport and she’ll be going to the Rowing Australia national trials in Tasmania – depending on COVID-safe travel regulations – late next month. After that it will be ‘head down’ researching the symptoms of concussion in the AFLW, which can lead to conditions such as Alzheimer’s and chronic traumatic encephalopathy down the track.

Tess continues: “I’ve already done an internship with the North Melbourne AFLW in 2019, which was the first year they had a women’s team. What I’ve found so far is that women football players are more likely to report early symptoms of concussion and they may experience those symptoms more often and at a greater intensity. They are at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis and have reduced quality of life following ACL injuries and can develop Alzheimer’s and CTE following concussion. How great would it be to prevent that?”

Very great, Tess. Graduating with a High Distinction in her Honours year and as the recipient of a scholarship to do her PhD, this beach and travel enthusiast who loves spending time with her family and friends is well on her way to making a difference in the injury prevention AFLW arena.

And the crowd roars!


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