The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup is underway, and the U.S. Women’s team is preparing for the finals after a rewarding win against Germany.
The women have a grueling round ahead, so hopefully all players will stay strong and healthy for Sunday. There has been buzz surrounding the competition, as the women are playing on Canadian turf instead of real grass. This provides an increased risk for injury, especially when playing at a high level.
Michael Nguyen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine, is an expert in sports injuries and arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder, hip and knee. He is cheering on the women’s team and hopeful for a victory. As an athlete and former soccer player himself, Dr. Nguyen shares his thoughts on women’s soccer and potential injuries that can result from the sport.
Trouble with Turf
When you play soccer or any competition at a high level, there is always a risk for injury. However, playing soccer on turf can increase the risk for harm due to different mechanics between the leg and the playing surface.
“Historically turf has always been a hazard mainly because your foot has no give in it,” says Dr. Nguyen. “When your foot hits grass, the grass will give a little bit. Turf has no give, so if you cut too hard and you’re not balanced well you can injure a knee very easily.”
Dr. Nguyen says injury rates do have a tendency to be higher when playing on turf, and knees are by far the most common problem for soccer players.
Kicking Around a Risk for Knee Injury
Dr. Nguyen has extensive experience caring for athletes at all levels, and treats numerous patients every day with sports-related injuries.
Yesterday, he visited with a woman who played collegiate soccer. She was playing an indoor soccer team with friends, and she was a strong, well-conditioned athlete. Yet, after a devastating injury during one of her games, she found herself with Dr. Nguyen developing a treatment plan for her knee.
“She said she planted and tried to turn on the ball,” says Dr. Nguyen. “She felt a pop in her knee and went down. She said it felt like it buckled underneath her.”
He had heard this before. Dr. Nguyen explains knee injuries are by far the largest threat for female soccer players, due to the nature of the sport and the stress placed on the knee. The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in your knee can easily be sprained or torn if there is a sudden twisting or similar motion, common in soccer.
“Women are eight times more likely to tear their ACL than men,” says Dr. Nguyen.
According to experts and researchers, there are many theories surrounding female ACL injuries. When compared to men, some believe women may have more laxity in their ligaments due to estrogen levels, or women have a tendency to be more knocked-kneed rather than bow-legged like men. No matter the reason, it still holds true that females suffer ACL tears at a higher rate.
Soccer Niche Injury—the Knee
During Dr. Nguyen’s subspecialty training at Stanford Medical Center, he participated as one of the team physicians for the San Francisco 49ers and helped care for a variety of sports teams, including soccer. He says that for each sport there is typically a niche injury. For baseball players it tends to be shoulder and elbow problems, whereas for football, you see more concussions. Dr. Nguyen says for soccer, it is almost always an injury to the knee.
“When I look at my schedule and see a patient who had played soccer, it is almost always something to do with the knee,” he says.
There are a number of treatment options if you’ve suffered a knee injury. For athletes, it is important to get a safe and effective plan so you can get back in the game. If your injury does require an operative treatment plan, you will first need to manage the swelling and range of motion. This is done through effective physical therapy and consulting with your doctor. If needed, after about a week or two of management, a specialist may perform surgery to reconstruct the ACL injury, whether with your own tissue or donor tissue.
This treatment process typically takes about six to eight months before recovery, which usually feels like an eternity for athletes anxious to get back playing the sport they love.
“Especially for high level athletes, it’s very detrimental mentally. That’s half the battle,” says Dr. Nguyen.
Dr. Nguyen has suffered injuries as an athlete before, and can relate to patients who may have to work their way back into the game.
“I know the physical and mental anguish that comes from it,” says Dr. Nguyen. “Seeing someone come back from a low point after an injury is really where I get my passion.”
About the author
This content has been written or reviewed by a member of the Baylor Scott & White Health medical staff.