May 12, 2024

Women's Soccer Shines Light on ACL Injury Research

International support for women's soccer has surged over the past decade, fueled by star players and major tournament victories. With this growing popularity comes increased scrutiny on the health challenges female athletes face. Rising participation rates and heightened competition have exacerbated the issue of sports injuries, particularly anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures. Health experts warn that women are 6x more prone to an ACL injury than men, and 25% less likely to fully recover. This concerning trend among female soccer players demands attention from the entire sports community. Yet one major question remains: where is the research to prevent this? 

acl injury

ACL Epidemic

ACL injuries in women's soccer are robbing top competitions, leagues, and even the World Cup of some of their top international talent. This is especially true within major professional teams such as Arsenal Football Club, where in 2023, ACL tears sidelined 4 players out of a 25-person roster. Such a high number of starters succumbing to the same injury has spotlighted the training conditions of the Arsenal women's team. Among them is Arsenal FC & Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema, who said, “Instead of 30 games a season, we now play 60. But we don’t have the time and investment that is needed to keep players fit.” Women's soccer players are not being offered the proper training schedules, facilities, or nutrition to contribute to their success on the field. Season-ending injuries have become the consequence.

Lack of Female-Focused Studies

There are thousands of sports-science academic studies, but few are primarily focused on women's health in soccer. Female health specialist Dr. Emma Ross explained how misinformation stems from this disparity: "We published a paper over a year ago which showed that, in sport and exercise science research, only 6% of studies are done exclusively on females.” As a result, female ACL injuries fall into this misinformation trap. One common misconception is that body shape, hip width, and the menstrual cycle are all contributing factors. Yet there is still no solid scientific evidence depicting the role they play. Many professional players say this isn’t enough– more research must to be done.

The Right Shoes

One possible culprit for ACL ruptures is women’s athletic footwear. Despite being top athletes, female players frequently find themselves competing in shoes originally tailored for their male counterparts. A recent study by the European Club Association and St. Mary’s University, London revealed that 82% of elite female footballers reported experiencing "pain or discomfort" due to ill-fitting cleats. Soon after this research, Nike released the Phantom Luna, a football boot created with women in mind. Its innovative design incorporates contours specific to female feet, a circular cleat pattern, and a much-requested snug ankle fit. Nike's preventative technology aims to stabilize the knee and protect against ACL tears. Female players around the world are big fans: Brazilian professional soccer star, Debinha Miri, says the new cleat makes her feel "secure and confident" on the pitch. Given the shoe's success, it's likely more brands will follow Nike's lead.

acl injury

Looking Ahead: Project ACL

The future of ACL ruptures in women's soccer does have a silver lining. Weeks ago, a new initiative to research and prevent ACL injuries in women's soccer began. This collaboration incorporates major players like FIFPRO, the Professional Footballers' Association, Nike, and Leeds Beckett University. The ambitious three-year inquiry is called Project ACL. It will follow the experiences of 300 professional female soccer players across England's Women's Super League (WSL), spanning 12 clubs. Although the focus is currently on England, FIFPRO harbors aspirations to expand this initiative on a global scale. The U.S.-based National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) seems to be the next research target within a few years. As women's soccer continues to expand, it's imperative that major leagues and teams continue to research these injuries. Without player health, there is no way to sustain the growth and professionalization of women's soccer globally.



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