Two years before David Beckham made the metatarsal injury famous in the build-up to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Medical Committee committed itself to an in-depth study into the injury risk posed to top-level footballers and the type of injuries they were likely to suffer.
The study began by examining risk and injury patterns at UEFA Champions League matches and was extended to cover games on artificial turf (deemed no more of a risk than grass) and international tournaments. As this extension of the scheme encompassed both UEFA EURO 2004™ and UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™, it provided the committee with an opportunity to further scrutinise whether women footballers were more prone to injury than their male counterparts, and whether the type of injuries sustained differed between the sexes.
Professor Jan Ekstrand, vice-chairman of the committee, presented the findings to coaches and administrators at the 5th UEFA Women's Football Conference in Oslo. "If we look at the number of injuries then there is a similar total between the men's and women's EURO," he said. "At both tournaments there was a higher risk of injury during the group stage than the knockout rounds, and that was more marked in the women's than men's."
Ekstrand found that "13 of the 15 injuries sustained affected teams which failed to advance to the semi-finals" - figures which were more open to speculation than interpretation. The 61-year-old said of the possible reasons for the discrepancy: "As Swedish national team doctor I found that the injury risk was twice as high at matches we lost rather than won, while injuries also have a direct impact on tactics - plans can obviously be disrupted - and results.
"Maybe if you lose you blame an injury to avoid some of the heat, or some teams have good replacements and don't have to take risks. Some teams may have more technical players, who get tackled less and avoid collisions. Physical fitness could also be a reason as the risk is increased if fatigued as a player can lose concentration and focus, and fluid intake can also play a role as better hydration improves performance."
Only three of the injuries suffered at WOMEN'S EURO were deemed severe, meaning an absence of four weeks, and Ekstrand also found that the risk of "contact injuries" was higher in Portugal than England. Perhaps the most revealing finding, however, was that women are far more likely to suffer contusions (a blow which causes swelling and bleeding) than fractures, with the opposite applying to male footballers.
Fair play link
The professor explained: "The reason is found in a simple formula we were taught at school: energy equals mass multiplied by the square of velocity. Players with a higher body weight and velocity therefore create more energy, causing fractures. Less energy leads to contusions." Esktrand also noted that there were fewer contact injuries in women's football than men's, linking the statistic to fair play.
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