Women use different muscles and biomechanics than men, and to properly heal injuries, women's soccer rehab programs need to take this into account. An unfortunate fact is that female athletes have an increased risk for dreaded ACL tears. Contributing factors include movements like jumping, landing and changing direction, all of which are essential in soccer. When rehabbing after even non-knee related injuries, these risk factors need to be addressed.
Studies have shown that women's hip muscles can atrophy after an injury as simple as an ankle sprain, due primarily to to injury-caused limping or using crutches. Any hip or core muscle weakness, when combined with a woman's biomechanics, can be a really bad thing for a female athlete returning to the soccer field. Proper rehabilitation is critical to coming back from an injury stronger and healthier.
If you have been sidelined by a soccer injury, follow these tips to return to the field as quickly and safely as possible.
Early Stages of Rehab
Early in the rehab process, do the following exercises if they do not put stress on your injury. Always check with a physical therapist or athletic trainer for proper progression. Instead of counting reps, perform each exercise to a point of slight muscle fatigue.
Lie on your side with your legs straight. Lift your top leg and draw a circle with it in a controlled fashion. Keep your abdominal muscles contracted and let your hips do the work, not your low back. Circle in both directions on each side.
Lie on your side with your knees bent and feet together. Keeping your feet together, repeatedly lift your top knee up, then lower it. Again, keep your abdominal muscles tight and let only your hips move. Do not rotate your low back. Perform on both sides.
Begin on your back with your knees bent. Squeeze your butt muscles and raise your hips off the ground, hold, then lower. Let your glutes do the work and keep your trunk level. Do not over-arch your low back or contract your hamstrings. Once you master this movement with your butt muscles working, progress to more intense exercises like the ones described below.
Later Stages of Rehab
In the final weeks of the rehabilitation process, start including plyometric exercises in your program, but only if allowed by a physician, physical therapist or athletic trainer. Plyos will prepare your body for a return to the field.
Initially, perform these in front of a mirror to make sure your movements are correct. Start with two sets of 5 to 10 jumps on two legs. Focus on landing with equal weight on both legs and do not favor the injured side. When landing, make ground contact with the balls of your feet, then rock back on your heels. Keep your chest over your knees and your knees over your toes. Last but not least, do not let your knees rotate in. Progress to single-0leg jumps only when you can do them correctly.
For more information on the ACL please see the STACK ACL Guide.
photo credit: morgue press.com
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