Hibs and Spartans among SWPL clubs struck with ACL injuries before World Cup

As ACL tears continue to infect multiple clubs in women’s football, SWPL sides Hibs and Spartans face an uphill battle to try and combat the knee injury.
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ACL injuries have become a significant issue in women’s football over the past few months. With the World Cup just over a month away, players continue to drop like flies thanks to the long-term injury. The WSL has multiple stars campaign’s coming to a quick end due to their ACL. England captain Leah Williamson was the most prominent recent player to suffer the horrendous injury while the 2022 European Championship Golden Boot winner Beth Mead was unable to recover for the upcoming tournament.

Much like their counterparts down south, the SWPL has seen many players unable to continue last season’s campaign with three high-profile cases occurring in Edinburgh. Hearts and New Zealand striker had her World Cup dreams dashed in mid-April after she went down awkwardly in the dying seconds in a heavy Celtic defeat. While Spartans defender Tegan Reynolds also suffered a similar fate just a month before in a 2-0 defeat to Hearts.

Hibs midfielder shares ACL heartbreak

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Perhaps the cruellest of all of these however was Rachael Boyle’s. The Hibs midfielder made her return to football just a week prior to her injury by coming on as a substitute against Glasgow Women. Her first appearance on a football pitch in over a year due to the birth of her child, the Scottish international made a resounding return as she netted a brace in front of the home crowd. Yet 15 minutes into her game, her ACL ensured that she wouldn’t see the pitch again for at least 18-months.

“I’ve had a few messages from some ex-teammates that I used to play with that have had similar injuries,” she told the Edinburgh Evening News. “I have been noticing the rise in coverage of ACL being so common lately in women’s football, not just in Scotland, but also south of the border.

“With the profile of players doing it down south with the likes of Leah Williamson and Beth Mead, it has really taken focus on the ACL’s and the fact that women are more likely to have this injury than the men. The work has to start with how they are going to look to try and help prevent these sorts of injuries.

“It is devastating for these players, whether you do it at 17 or when you are my age coming towards the end of your career, it is just as difficult. I wouldn’t wish this injury on anyone. It is nice to know that there are other people out there that you can lean on for support that are going through the same sort of thing as you at the same time.”

Both Rachael Boyle (left) and Tegan Reynolds (right) have suffered ACL injuries this year. Credit: Paul Devlin - SNS Group (left), Spartans Women Facebook (right).Both Rachael Boyle (left) and Tegan Reynolds (right) have suffered ACL injuries this year. Credit: Paul Devlin - SNS Group (left), Spartans Women Facebook (right).
Both Rachael Boyle (left) and Tegan Reynolds (right) have suffered ACL injuries this year. Credit: Paul Devlin - SNS Group (left), Spartans Women Facebook (right).

How can we prevent ACL injuries?

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Women’s footballers are six times more likely to pick up an ACL injury than male footballers due to many genetic and environmental factors. Various researchers have suggested differences in anatomy, hormonal and neuromuscular functions have a part to play in the massive difference between the men’s and women’s game. On top of this, the speed the female game is growing is also suggested to have an impact due to the intensity and fatigue impact it can have on the players. With a recent poll suggesting that fans want the footballing community to do more to prevent the injury, Spartans manager Debbi McCulloch insists that there are still areas clubs can manage to reduce the risk.

“One of the biggest areas that we do really well is monitoring our female health,” she explained. “We monitor the player's menstrual cycles, we provide them with protein after every single training session and matchday which can also help reduce the chance of injury, especially specific parts of the menstrual cycle. I've been really, really lucky to be part of the FIFA mentor programme, where we went to Costa Rica, there was a huge presentation done on female health and how that can help reduce injuries, not just ACLs. We look at our strength addition programme in detail as well.

“Unfortunately, there's been a lot of research done and it just seems to be one of those things that sometimes you can't control no matter what you do. But we've got to make sure that our warm-ups, recovery and rehab are looking after players. Female health is top priority so we need to reduce that risk as much as we possibly can.

“Can we stop it from happening? No, we can’t and I don't think anyone can do that but how you reduce it is extremely important. There are the small things that we will monitor like even just making sure that the players are getting enough sleep and what their sleep quality is like.”

Spartans defender recovering well

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With Spartans Reynolds being one of the more recent victims of an ACL injury, McCulloch is pleased to say her recovery is going well at the moment. A player’s recovery from an ACL injury can be very individualistic with some players back after nine months while others don’t see the pitch again for well over a year. However, the hope is that Reynolds will be playing for Spartans again sooner rather than later.

“I don't know how the majority of them have happened, but the majority of them have to have occurred since the turn of the year in our league which shows that fatigue certainly plays a part,” McCulloch added. “It's a difficult beast to try and manage. Even though sadly, Tegan tore her ACL, touchwood, that will be the last one for a while. She's had an operation, she went to Poland to have it and it's been a great success and she has started rehab already.”

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