Article by: Mark Scotney. Previous Melbourne Victory Physiotherapist and current Australian Winter Olympic Institute Of Australia Physiotherapist.
The Women’s World Cup has broken many records, including historic attendance and record-breaking broadcast views. Female participation at a grassroots level is expected to increase next season, ignited by the inspirational performances witnessed at this global tournament.
Whilst the level of athleticism and skill is a sight to behold, the other not-so-celebratory topic is the large number of players missing from the World Cup through injury and the frequency of severe knee injuries sustained within the tournament. It is estimated that more than 20 female athletes were unavailable for the tournament due to injury.
Let’s have a look at some of the data:
- According to various research articles, Females are between 3 and 6 times more likely to sustain an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament in the knee) injury during their career.
- 13-18-year-old girls are more than 1.6 times more likely to injure their ACL than their male counterparts.
- Peak ACL injury for females is 14-18 years old.
Why is this?
There are some anatomical differences in body shape and muscle strength; however, other significant factors are that females do not have the same access to high-level coaching, opportunities and facilities as males. We also know that, in general, recreational athletes have double the injury risk of their professional counterparts. This is known to be related to reduced fitness levels, conditioning, and poor warm-up.
What can parents or caregivers do?
Injury risk can be reduced by not specialising children in sports before the age of 12 years. As both coaches and parents, we need to be aware not all children can cope with the same training loads. Skeletal maturity can vary greatly in a girl’s teenage years. A girl in Under 14s may have the bony maturity of a 16-year-old and another of a 12-year-old. It is vital to watch out for consistent niggles occurring in the same location. In particular, if these are gradually getting worse.
This can look like:
- An increase in pain;
- Pain becoming more frequent;
- Pain present during training or games that was previously only there afterwards;
- A change in your child’s motivation to attend games or training;
- A difference in how they move – favouring a leg or not wanting to sprint.
It is advised that getting an early assessment from your Physiotherapist is vital if you become aware of any of these changes – a quick and early diagnosis can prevent or limit missed game time.
You can also influence your child’s strength, movement patterns and how they warm up. The coaches’ and clubs’ involvement in this is crucial. As well as reducing injury, this has the added advantage of improving performance with gains in speed, skill and the ability to change direction quickly.
Injury Prevention Programs
Football Australia has developed two programs:
- Football Fundamentals+ for 5-13-year-olds and;
- Football Perform+, which is a more extensive program aimed at 10-59-year-olds.
These programs have been developed on the back of FIFA 11+ injury prevention programs initially aimed at females but then expanded to males due to their success rate. They are well-researched and compiled by expert Physiotherapists, Sports Scientists and coaches.
Implementing these programs provided a 50% reduction in injuries, a 71% reduction in severe injuries and a reduction in financial cost by 51%. Specific to females, ACL reduction of 45% and overall injury reduction of 68%.
This impact is significant for a program that requires completion only 2-3 times a week to be effective. The warm-up component is 8 to 10 minutes long, with the strengthening performance component taking 10-15 minutes for the Program +. The strengthening component can be completed as part of training or given as homework for athletes to do in their own time. It is a progressive program built over a 6 to 8-week period. It is best done at the start of the season.
Both these programs are available on the Football Australia website and have a downloadable and printable version. See the below links. They also have easily accessible videos on how to do each exercise. References to the research articles are also present here for anyone inclined.
The Physiotherapists at Physios of Mt Eliza can assess, diagnose and manage any football-related injuries. We can also assess injury risk and implement the appropriate strengthening and movement retraining exercises to reduce this.