Women’s football is going from strength to strength. FIFA has declared it to be one of the key focus areas for the further development of the game in general – and acted accordingly. In late February, the reforms passed at the Extraordinary Congress in Zurich paved the way for greater equality in football, and also for more support for women’s football and for women in decision-making roles. The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015™ in Canada proved once again that the women’s game is currently in rude health, and is also gaining more and more fans all around the world.

Since 1999, world football’s governing body has been analysing all injuries sustained at its women’s competitions, collating data in order to investigate trends and find ways to make further improvements to its tournaments and development programmes for member associations.

F-MARC findings

The findings of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC) revealed that there was an average of 2.12 injuries per game at last year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada, which represented a slight decrease compared to the Women’s World Cups in 2011 (2.27 injuries per game) and in 2007 (2.34). In their article for the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Prof. Jiří Dvořák (F-MARC; FIFA Chief Medical Officer) and Prof. Astrid Junge (F-MARC) explained that these figures should be viewed with caution, however, as they only apply to those specific tournaments and not league football. It is also clear that the injury rate at tournaments can easily be influenced by a number of factors, including the teams’ playing systems, styles of play, and preparations, and even by how the referees go about interpreting their role.

Severe and minor injuries

Generally, the duration of a player’s absence from play is considered when determining the severity of an injury. In research terms, an absence of up to seven days is regarded as a minor injury. The longest absences from play are caused by torn ligaments and broken bones.

At the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the average number of time-loss injuries per match was 0.75, compared to 1.1 in both 2011 and 2007.

Ankle sprains and torn ligaments

The most common injury sustained on the pitch is an ankle sprain, but most studies have also revealed high numbers of knee and particularly anterior cruciate ligament injuries in women’s football.

Most injuries sustained at FIFA tournaments are due to contact with another player, whereas around one-third of all contact injuries are because of fouls (this figure increases to around 50% in the men’s game). This applies to both the player committing the foul and the player being fouled.

The risk of sustaining an injury appears to be greatest towards the end of each half, whereas this risk is at its lowest in the first 15 minutes of each half, which would suggest that the over-eagerness and tiredness of players also have an influence on the frequency of injuries.

There are also more instances of concussion in the women’s game compared to the men’s, although it is unclear whether women are simply genetically more predisposed to concussion, or whether they tend to report their symptoms more accurately.

Torn ligaments, which are regarded as particularly severe as they result in a long time out of action and can have serious long-term implications for the player, are also three to seven times more likely to occur in the women’s game than in the men’s. It is also a proven fact that women tend to sustain such injuries at much younger ages than men do. Training methods to prevent torn ligaments, such as the FIFA 11+, are very effective but they are still not being used often.