#AskIDA: Female Athlete Physiology and Injuries

This October we hosted our first ever “Ask IDA” webinar, in what we hope becomes an ongoing series where we bring experts to the table to discuss what YOU want to know about the female athlete experience. 

We believe that knowledge is power when it comes to footwear, comfort, and performance on the field, so we were delighted to host Dr. Karli Richards, DPM, FACFAS to share her insights around female physiology and injuries in the sport.

Dr. Karli Richards is a Podiatric surgeon who practices with UPMC-Richards Orthopedic Center and Sports Medicine in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Dr. Richards has been in practice for over 14 years and specializes in foot and ankle surgery, sports medicine, general podiatry, and wound care. She is board-certified in both foot surgery and in wound care and treats athletes from local high school and college teams for lower extremity injuries.

Whether you are a player, coach, parent, or administrator in the game, it’s important to understand the factors that contribute to potential injuries. Female athletes are 4-8 times more likely to tear the ACL than male counterparts and not enough is being done! The first place to start is understanding the risk factors and then taking steps to address them.

Top 5 Contributing Risk Factors 

  1. Anatomic
    There are many anatomical differences between females and males, but an important one to know is that females have a greater “Q angle” than males, aka wider set hips. This contributes to pronation (the natural tendency for female knees and ankles to lean inwards) and greater stress on the ACL. It should NOT be where the discussion ends though. It's just one factor.

  2. Neuromuscular
    Strengthen your quads AND hamstrings on both legs. Women tend to be “quad dominant” which can contribute to hyperextension of the knee, so be sure to focus on hamstring-specific exercises.

  3. Hormonal
    Did you know that our ligaments are extra vulnerable during menstruation? More specifically, we’re most susceptible during late phase 2 when estrogen levels are highest, progesterone levels are lowest, and ligaments are loosest.

  4. Environmental
    Surfaces and footwear are two major factors when it comes to injury risk. From the variability of surface quality to the inconsistency in the types of surfaces our youth players train and play on. Not to mention footwear! Most soccer cleats are designed for grass fields with long bladed studs which could lead to the dreaded “stick and twist” for many female athletes on artificial turf.

  5. Physical
    Soccer is a physical game and there’s no way to truly prevent injuries despite efforts to reduce risk. The most common ways ACL injuries happen on the field include sudden stops or decreases in speed, poor landing, direct collision, and sharp changes in direction. 

Ok, so what can female athletes do to support their bodies on the field?

  1. Strength & Conditioning
    Focus on female-specific exercises! Strengthen your quads. Strengthen your hamstrings even more. Teach young girls how to probably jump and land in an athletic stance from an early age. Track and understand your menstrual cycle so you can adjust your diet and training accordingly.

  2. Footwear Design
    Avoid soccer cleats with long bladed studs when on artificial turf and instead, seek out cleats that have shorter and conical studs, like IDA’s selection of women’s specific FG/AG cleats. Be sure to also support your arches! Whether that’s through a female-specific soccer cleat or through a custom insole.

    >> Related: Why do you need women’s specific soccer cleats?

  3. Surfaces
    This one is a little harder to control as a player. But as you invest more time in the game, consider investing in footwear that’s optimal for each of the most common surfaces you train and play games on. Coaches and administrators, let’s advocate for the well-being of our female athletes and push for consistent and quality practice and game fields! 

Banner image that says "Support your body, Invest in your comfort" with a picture of the bottom studs on a black and white soccer cleat.

Top Tips & Resources from Dr. Karli Richards, DPM, FACFAS

1) Be strong, train strong, stay strong!

2) Practice proper proprioception (balance), strength training, and landing techniques.

  • FIFA 11+ Program → from Joseph Blatter & Jim Dvorak-FIFA chief medical officer
3) Let’s talk about our periods! This is important for training, nutrition and injury prevention.
  • www.fitrwoman.com → FitrWoman helps you track your menstrual cycle and provides personalized training and nutritional suggestions tailored to the changing hormone levels throughout your cycle.
  • www.orreco.com → Empowering athletes with the knowledge and tools to own their performance and own their data.

4) Good shoe gear and arch supports to decrease pronation of the foot

5) Consistent training surfaces and appropriate shoes for those surfaces

  • Let’s educate our administrators and coaches to accommodate consistent training surfaces and encourage optimal traction among players as much as possible!

We say this a lot, but we can never fully prevent injuries from happening in soccer, but we can take steps to better support our bodies. From blisters and black toenails to high ankle sprains and ACL tears (4-8x more likely than men!), doing nothing is not an option. 

At IDA, we’re committed to supporting female athletes through footwear that's more comfortable and designed for their unique biomechanics. If your cleats have always hurt or you’re looking to invest in your feet, check out our range of FG/AG cleats and indoor futsal shoes.

Missed the webinar? There were unfortunately some minor internet issues this time around so our event recording was interrupted. But join our mailing list and follow us on Instagram to stay in the loop on future #AskIDA events. We may even host Dr. Richards again since it was such a popular discussion! 

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