In recent years, the world of women’s football has seen remarkable growth and progress. The skill and athleticism displayed by female players have reached new heights, drawing larger audiences and increased interest. With this increase in popularity and opportunities to play the game, more and more girls are taking up the sport after being inspired by the success of the Lionesses, but this then leaves these young girls susceptible to potential ACL injuries, which can end a career before it’s even started. As women’s football continues to grow and evolve, it is essential to prioritize the well-being of the athletes who inspire us with their skill and determination on the field.
This blog will delve into the alarming increase in ACL injuries in women’s football, examining the role of weakened hip flexors and the differences in pelvic angles between males and females in contributing to this issue, and what strategies can be used to reduce the risk of ACL injuries in Women’s football.
Understanding ACL Injuries:
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) plays a vital role in stabilizing the knee joint, preventing it from excessive forward movement. Unfortunately, ACL injuries are common in sports that involve sudden changes in direction, pivoting, and jumping, such as football. The injury occurs when the ligament is overstretched or torn, leading to pain, swelling, and in some cases, surgery and extensive rehabilitation.
Studies have consistently shown that female football players are more susceptible to ACL injuries compared to their male counterparts. According to research, the rate of ACL injuries in women’s football is two to ten times higher than in men’s football. This alarming disparity has prompted researchers and sports medicine professionals to explore potential contributing factors specific to female athletes.
Pelvic Anatomy Disparities: Unveiling the Angle Difference
An often-overlooked aspect contributing to the higher prevalence of ACL injuries in women’s football is the distinct anatomical differences between the male and female pelvis. One of the key dissimilarities is the angle at which the pelvis is positioned. The female pelvis tends to have a wider angle between the hip bones, known as the Q-angle, compared to the narrower angle in the male pelvis.
The Q-angle creates an increased mechanical load on the knee joint, potentially leading to improper tracking and alignment during movements. When coupled with weaker hip flexors, the misalignment further heightens the vulnerability of the ACL to injury. This combination of factors creates a perfect storm that leaves female footballers at a heightened risk of ACL tears.
This wider angle can create a situation known as “valgus collapse” when a female athlete lands from a jump or changes direction suddenly. Valgus collapse occurs when the knee moves inward toward the centre of the body, placing excessive stress on the ACL. This is a crucial difference as male athletes tend to have a narrower angle in their pelvis, which provides more stability to the knee joint during high-stress movements.
Hip Flexors and ACL Injuries:
One key factor that has emerged is the role of hip flexors in stabilizing the knee during movements. Hip flexors are a group of muscles located in the front of the hip, responsible for bending the hip joint and bringing the knee towards the chest. These muscles are vital for maintaining proper alignment and stability during physical activities.
Weak hip flexors can lead to an increased risk of ACL injuries. When hip flexors are underdeveloped or lack strength, the knee may experience excessive inward movement (knee valgus) during dynamic movements. This inward collapse places greater stress on the ACL, making it more susceptible to injury during quick changes in direction or landing from jumps. This can increase the risk of ACL injuries in the following ways:
1. Poor Landing Mechanics: Weak hip flexors can result in poor landing mechanics, causing the knees to collapse inward upon landing. This inward movement of the knee is a known risk factor for ACL injuries.
2. Altered Running Gait: Inadequate hip flexor strength can lead to an altered running gait, where the knees move excessively inward or outward during running. Such irregularities in gait can predispose female footballers to ACL injuries over time.
3. Reduced Dynamic Stability: Dynamic stability, the ability to control the body during rapid movements, is crucial in football. Weak hip flexors can compromise an athlete’s ability to maintain proper alignment, leading to ACL injuries during quick changes in direction or pivoting.
Addressing the Issue
Recognizing the link between weak hip flexors, anatomical differences in pelvises, and the rise in ACL injuries among female footballers is essential in devising preventive measures and injury management protocols. Here are some strategies that Regain Pain Management can implement to address this issue:
1. Strengthening Programs: Implementing targeted hip flexor strengthening exercises within training programs can enhance stability and reduce the risk of ACL injuries in female athletes.
2. Neuromuscular Training: Integrating neuromuscular training, which emphasizes proper movement mechanics and body control, can significantly reduce the occurrence of ACL injuries.
3. Sport-Specific Techniques: Teaching proper jumping and landing techniques can minimize the impact on the knee joint and reduce the risk of ACL injuries.
4. Injury Prevention Education: Educating players, coaches, and parents about ACL injury risk factors, symptoms, and preventive measures can foster a safer sporting environment
Regain Pain Management has over 80 years of experience working with high level athletes and amateur sports people of all ages, to become stronger and avoid the potential injuries associated with weak hip flexors.
Our Director, Mathew Jerome, was Physio for Bradford City Women’s Football team, before he became Head of Injury & Rehabilitation at their Elite Development Football Programme. He uses a treatment protocol called ‘Muscle Activation’ that gets the muscles firing in the correct sequence, making the body, and especially the legs instantly stronger. This has been a really successful therapy in reducing the amount of lower limb and knee injuries that he has had to deal with over the last 4 years among female footballers.
He also works closely with a number of Junior and professional football academies across the region, advising, treating and educating players, parents and coaches about Injury prevention, and what can be done at home in-between training sessions to maintain fitness.
Matt Grace Our Strength & Performance Coach, has devised a range of programs aimed at making the hip flexors, ankles, feet and knees more stable, reducing the chance of ACL tears. He delivers online 1 on 1 sessions, or face to face in clinic appointments.
Melanie Roberts who is our Manual Therapist, can help to improve nerve signal, proprioception, and increase core stability with her amazing hands-on therapies. She can also identify any potential weaknesses in the body before they manifest into something more serious by doing some simple body work testing.
We also have Deepika Surve who is our Physiotherapist, and can diagnose any niggle or injury, so that you get the correct treatment and speed up the return to playing the beautiful game again.
The concerning surge in ACL injuries among women’s football players demands a comprehensive understanding of the contributing factors. While numerous elements may be at play, recent research highlighting the role of weak hip flexors and the anatomical disparities in pelvic angles has shed light on a potential avenue for proactive intervention.
By focusing on hip flexor strengthening, biomechanics training, and personalized conditioning, the football community can work together to address this issue and ensure the long-term health and success of female players. As awareness grows and preventive measures take centre stage, women’s football can continue to flourish as a sport where athletes thrive and injuries become a rarity rather than a norm.
Director – Regain Pain Management