NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The youngest elite female soccer players are at greater risk of being injured than their older teammates, possibly because they haven't yet developed strategies to avoid getting hurt, according to a study from France.
The study also found that ankle sprains were the most common injury, accounting for nearly 17 percent, and head injuries were rare. "From these results, it seems that concussive injury was not a problem in the current population of elite youth female soccer players and contradicts the suggestion that young soccer players are more at risk for concussions," Dr. Franck Le Gall of the Institut National du Football in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines and colleagues write in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
They looked at injuries sustained over eight seasons of play at the National Soccer Training and Development Center for Females in Clairefontaine and found a high incidence of traumatic injury and injury during games compared to prior studies on female soccer players.
During the study period, 619 injuries were documented in 110 players (92.4 percent), with 54.6 percent having four or more injuries. Just over half of the injuries were minor, 35.7 percent were moderate, and 12.4 percent were severe.
The ankle was the most common site of injury, followed by the thigh and the knee, while just two head injuries occurred during the course of the study. Overall, 86.4 percent of injuries were traumatic, while 13.4 percent were due to overuse. Only 4.4 percent of the injuries recorded were re-injuries.
Among players younger than 15, injury rates were 8.7 per 1,000 hours of play, compared to 4.9 for 1,000 hours for players younger than 19.
It's possible, Le Gall and his team say, that the younger players had yet to develop the "injury avoidance skills" that older players had, or perhaps they had undergone overly intensive training.
This research also suggests that concussion is less of a problem among young elite female soccer players than some researchers have suggested, the researchers say. However, they add, the frequency of ankle sprains and strains underscore the need for research on effective prevention strategies for these injuries.
SOURCE: American Journal of Sports Medicine, February 2008.