Since the Lionesses have been on centre stage, there has been a spotlight on Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries. England Captain Leah Williamson suffered an ACL injury in April, preventing her from competing in the Women’s World Cup. This followed a bout of ACL injuries among other elite female football players.
Here, teaching assistant Lia, talks about her own football ACL injury, and her gruelling rehabilitation after surgery to get back to the pitch.
Lia’s footballing ACL injury – not that uncommon
Lia had been playing football for twenty-four years, and had suffered some serious ankle injuries – but no knee issues.
“As a defender, I slide in to make tackles all the time.” However, when playing a semi-final game with her Sunday league team in Sidcup, she went to make a tackle, but her leg had other ideas. “My knee went one way, and my foot the other,” she says. “I just remember my knee burning.”
After three weeks resting, Lia was keen to return for some light training, but when her leg instantly gave way she realised her injury was more serious than first suspected. Some weeks later, a scan revealed a torn ACL.
Lia is certainly not alone though. Research shows that female footballers are up to six times more likely to suffer a non-contact ACL injury than male players. In fact, both Lia’s sisters had experienced ACL ruptures through football, and both received surgeries. Also, similar to many other cases, Lia’s injury did not involve contact, and seemed to be caused by a sudden change in speed…in her case a sudden stop.
Lia’s ACL surgery recovery
With her mind set on returning to football, surgery was the best way to get her back to her sport. A year later, Lia was set for an ACL repair with Mr Punwar at The Blackheath Hospital. From the moment she arrived, Lia recalls being fully informed on the procedure. “It was all explained. I knew exactly what was going to happen. It was very reassuring.”
Mr Punwar ACL repair surgery uses the UltraSTAR surgical technique with a single, quadrupled semitendinosus graft. After surgery, Lia said she was very naive about how long the recovery process would take. “My sisters said it’s going to hurt, you’ll get to a point where you don’t think you can do another set of exercises. But do them!”
Lia received her physio exercises the morning after her surgery, but found it exhausting. But she pushed through, setting herself small goals and with a strong support network of friends, family and club-mates. “I remember when I was able to walk to the kitchen without my crutches and make a cup of tea. I sent my friends a photo because I was so proud of myself!”
More research into footballer’s ACL injuries needed
Now, almost five months since her surgery, Lia’s physio is going well, and she is looking forward to running again soon. She is hoping to return to football next Spring. That will be 12 months after her surgery, and two years since her ACL injury occurred.
When considering the plight of so many other football players experiencing ACL injuries, Lia says: “It needs to be looked at. More research is needed. And not just in female football. They’re not nice injuries to have – career-ending injuries for some people. Anything that can help prolong people’s footballing careers.”