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female football injuries

Female Football Injuries : injury incidence among female pro players

Football is the world’s most popular organised sport, with female participation increasing all the time. Now a team of US researchers has produced the first prospective study of female professional football in an attempt to compare injury incidence and location with those of their male counterparts (‘Injuries in women’s professional soccer’, Br J Sports Med 2005;39:212-216).

The researchers collected and analysed injury data on 202 players from eight teams during the first two seasons of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) in 2001 and 2002.

Key findings were:

  • A total of 173 injuries occurred over the two seasons, with 55% of players affected;
  • The overall injury incidence was 1.93 injuries per 1,000 player hours. However, the game incidence, at 12.63 per 1,000 hours, was much higher than the practice incidence, at 1.17;
  • Most injuries (60%) were located in the lower extremities, with strains (30.7%), sprains (19.1%), contusions (16.2%) and fractures (11.6%) the most common diagnoses and the knee (31.8%) and head (10.9%) the most common sites of injury. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries accounted for 4.6% of all injuries and the incidence of ACL tears was 0.09 per 1,000 player hours;
  • Midfielders suffered the most injuries (34.1%);
  • Injuries were most likely to occur in the latter portion of the competitive season and were least common during the post season.

The overall injury rate of 1.93 per 1,000 player hours was significantly lower than that observed in the corresponding male professional league (Major League Soccer) of 6.2 per thousand hours.

The other notable difference – already known but again confirmed by this study – is that female footballers are much more prone to knee injuries than their male counterparts – an incidence of 31.8% compared with 17%.

‘An awareness of the propensity of knee injuries in female soccer players is particularly important for the team physician and team trainer,’ the researchers write, ‘as it has been shown that 12 years post-injury, 34% of previous female soccer players in Sweden who suffered an ACL injury have radiographic changes consistent with osteoarthritis.’

They conclude: ‘The elite soccer players in this study have achieved the highest level of play possible in female soccer; therefore, our findings of a low injury rate could reflect the high level of fitness needed to participate in the WUSA and the impact of proper pre- season strengthening and training.’

In a commentary following the published account of this study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, S Drawer of UK Sport comments: ‘The difference in injury rates may well reflect the differing levels of intensity between males and females at the elite end of the sport... However, there may also be some interesting lessons to be learnt by the male soccer population from the physical and mental preparation of their female counterparts to assist in reducing the risk of injury.’

female football injuries