ACL injuries in women’s football: Could boots be the future of injury prevention?

The Nike boots of Ella Toone of England are seen during an England Training Session at St George's Park on September 05, 2022 in Burton upon Trent, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Between 25 and 30 players have missed out on competing at the 2023 World Cup due to those infamous three letters. ACL tears are rampant in women’s football right now.

The simple fact of the matter is that ACL tears and other injuries will not be solved by investment into new, socially conscious footwear. Nevertheless, there are real benefits to centering research in how we approach injuries on the female body.

Nike jumped on board with their Phantom-Luna football boots. The design is made ‘for women, by women’ in attempt to reduce ACL injuries in high-level sports. Common risk factors for ACL tears in women include the laxity of joints during the menstrual cycle, reduced muscle mass surrounding the knee, and a smaller notch in the knee joint, allowing for limited stretching and rotation.

Features of the Phantom Luna football boot

The Nike Phantom Luna boots contain their ‘Cyclone 360 pattern’ — a circular stud pattern at the front of the cleat allowing for ease of change in direction. This places minimal pressure on joints and allows players to pivot and push-off without worrying about the risks. ACL injuries most commonly occur in sports such as football, skiing, or basketball, where sharp lateral movements are key to a good technical profile.

Other noticeable features of the Phantom Luna cleats include the snug fit for the ankle sock and cushioning to prevent extraneous movement. The laces are easily adjustable to fit the shape of the individual. Customizing the lacing of a shoe to one’s foot can reduce the issues that come with high or flat arches. Women in particular tend to have more extreme arches.

The heel-cuff seam is asymmetrical to the ankle, reducing achilles irritation and the time needed to break-in the shoe. Irritation not only prevents the player from focusing on the game, but also increases the need to compensate for discomfort. Compensation can lead to players moving their body in ways that are not fluid.

Although shoes are considered to be a minimal factor in mitigating injury, there is not sufficient research to confirm this. With the right support, it is possible that shoes could make a significant impact on injury reduction.

Are new women’s football boots the answer?

There is currently no evidence to suggest that the level of support provided in a shoe makes a difference when mitigating ACL tears. However, new models can properly measure ACL loads at different points in time. Using current models, it may be possible to test different to create boots for the female body while acknowledging an increased risk for certain injuries.

Future research could focus on further reducing impact to the knee on lateral movements, absorbing shock, or on flexibility. Women’s bodies change regularly and body-type varies greatly from person to person. Designing shoes that are effective for everyone is not possible without a flexible approach. It may not even be possible whatsoever. In that case, multiple shoe types could be developed.

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Nike has made a good start on investing in the research necessary to reduce injury in the women’s game. However, the Phantom Luna alone is not good enough for the development of the sport heading into the future. Factors such as training facilities, load-management, and periodization are much more impactful than footwear. For for-profit companies such as Nike however, cleats are a lucrative option as the market for the women’s game continues to develop. This makes women’s football cleats both something to look out for in the coming years, and something worth exploring in terms of added benefit to injury prevention.

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