Generally, men have a higher muscle-to-fat ratio than women after puberty, which is just one reason their bodies can better tolerate the rigors of contact sports, such as soccer. The naturally higher level of testosterone in men adds muscle for greater strength, while girls, with a higher level of estrogen, tend to be more flexible, making their ligaments more flexible. While an advantage in some sports, this increased flexibility puts women at higher risk for injury in soccer, as their lower muscle-to-fat ratio is less able to keep their joints in a stable and secure position.
Women must also train much harder to obtain similar physical strength, an advantage that men naturally enjoy. Such wear and tear can further put women’s bodies at risk for serious injury. Painful injuries, such as a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knees, can lead to a lifelong problem. Girls who play soccer are also more likely to suffer from chronic knee pain, leg cramps, and stress fractures. In addition, they are more prone to ankle sprains, as well as hip pain and low back pain.
Women also move differently from men, in a more upright and less flexed position, which can increase tension during actions such as rapid changes of direction, jump landing, and body contact. The difference in the design of the woman’s hips can also be another risk factor.
In terms of prevention, women must accept that their bodies are naturally different from men’s and understand how this affects them when they choose to play soccer. Cross training is just one option. Swimming, a non-weight bearing exercise, helps strengthen muscles without overloading the hip and knee joints.
Warming up properly before training and wearing compression joint supports to maintain proper knee and ankle joint position is essential for all athletes. In fact, compression joint supports and thermomedical therapy garments can be the key to preventing long-term debilitating injuries for athletes of all disciplines and ages.
Diet is essential, especially from a very young age. Medical research shows, even in male soccer players, more injuries now than in previous generations due to a poorer diet and less physical activity. This means that our bodies are less robust, making proper joint protection a high priority.
Choosing well-designed orthopedic therapy garments, obtaining specialized medical care, and allowing adequate rest after any injury are vital but overlooked issues. As a parent or team coach, you can positively reinforce all of these issues in your girls. Consider hiring a team sports physical therapist to individually assess each player for optimal performance and injury prevention.