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Why do women suffer more sports injuries?

While there are plenty of specialised gear for women pursuing the active life, when it comes to playing sports, things are quite different

Ace football Sam Kerr (centre) is among many high profile women to suffer major sports injuries.(AFP)

By Shrenik Avlani

LAST PUBLISHED 11.03.2024  |  08:00 AM IST

When it comes to being active, there are plenty of options to choose from for women today—yoga, gym, running, swimming, you name it. And when it comes to gear, from top of the line sports bras to specialised period pants, the market in India is flooded with both international and homegrown brands. But when it comes to sports—one of the best and most fun ways of being active—finding the right gear still remains a big challenge for women.  

Despite celebrating International Women’s Day on Friday, millions of women in sports from football to hockey and basketball to cricket, continue to suffer because the gear, especially shoes, is either designed for men or children and not specifically for their needs and physiology. The only exception to this is in running and racquet sports, which have plenty of shoes on offer for women. 

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Puma’s research into the anatomy of the female and the male foot showed that the shape of the female foot is different. “The boot needs to match the anatomical differences. If there is room in the boot for the foot to move around then there is less stability and lockdown, which can lead to higher levels of strain and stress on the body when performing dynamic movements. So, it is important that female or male athletes wear boots that match the shape of their foot to feel comfortable, stable and enjoy a greater sense of lockdown in the boots," says Binwant Behgal, Head of Sports Marketing at Puma India.

One of the biggest fallouts of wearing poorly-fitted gear is injuries. Studies have shown that a disproportionately large number of women suffer anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and hamstring injuries compared to men. A British Parliament's Women and Equalities Committee’s report Health Barriers For Girls And Women In Sport, published just days ahead of International Women’s Day, states that the sports sector’s response to the high rates of ACL injuries among women footballers has been disparate and slow. Additionally, the report states that “there is evidence that football boots are causing broader problems for many female players." 

Some of the biggest players in women’s football today are out of action because of ACL injuries, including star striker Sam Kerr of Australia, or Euros hero Beth Mead of England. Former Ballon D’Or winner Alexia Putellas of Barcelona didn’t play much of the World Cup last year because she was recovering from an ACL rupture; former World Cup winner Megan Rapinoe of Team USA suffered three ACL tears during career. 

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Back in 2009, when a coach I used to train with, invited former India cricketer Jhulan Goswami to join me for a cardio session, she turned up in an oversized men’s cricket jersey that she had probably got while playing some tournament. Thanks to the dominance of the all-powerful BCCI, Indian women cricketers today not only get equal pay as Rohit Sharma and his men, they also get some access to proper gear designed for them. However, thousands of young girls that Goswami and other women cricketers inspire, continue to struggle to find gear that fits them properly. 

A sport like cricket requires specialised batting and wicket keeping pads and gloves, thigh guards and arm guards, not to mention shoes for batting and bowling. Each of these things are a challenge for women to access. A person working closely with Nike says that finding cricket shoes especially designed for women is a bigger challenge, than finding football boots designed for the foot and physiology of women.

Paola Giuntini has played basketball since she was a kid and at 31, continues to do so. However, for most of her life she has had to make compromises as far as basketball shoes are concerned by buying shoes that do not fit her properly, or long waiting times for those that do. Just recently she had to wait four months for a pair that she liked. “Some of my teammates have often bought children’s shoes if the size worked for them. There is hardly much choice, and most times there if you find a pair that works for you, they don’t have the shoes in your size. I waited four months for the pair I am currently using," she says. 

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Giuntini knows that many of the injuries that women suffer while playing basketball are due to improper gear that they play in. “I really think this is due to the fact that those who work in the industry are mainly men, and so obviously this isn’t an issue that concerns them. This makes it even more important to have women in the field and to have more and more sportswomen designing signature shoes," Giuntini suggests. It’s a change that we urgently need.  

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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