You can read the full report here: AFC leyton – menstrual cycle

Football, Periods and Injuries: The Menstrual Cycle & Female Football

In general, there has been very little in the way of research in looking at the female biology compared to males in football.  This means that females by and large train and compete in the same way as men do, with little consideration to differences.

We know that relationships exist between the menstrual cycle, associated hormonal fluctuations and health, well-being and sporting performance and that within the general population, the menstrual cycle and its related physical and psychological symptoms have a negative effect on daily life and activities including absenteeism from school or work.

From a sporting context, Martin et al reported that 77% of elite athletes not using hormonal contraception had negative side-effects during their menstrual cycle; including pain (abdominal/back), cramps (abdominal) and headaches/migraine. Bruinvels et al identified that half of elite British female runners and rowers felt that their menstrual cycle had in some way impacted on their training and sporting performances. Females do therefore have fluctuating training and dietary needs depending where they are in their monthly cycle.

For example, When accounting for football exposure, women do have a different injury risk profile than men. Women have a higher risk of serious knee injury (such as ACL rupture) = which is at least double in women than in men. Women also have a higher risk of concussion and ankle injuries than men. (However men do have a greater risk of hamstring, hip and groin injuries when compared to women.)

Several research studies have found that the first half of the cycle and particularly the build-up to ovulation is the key risk window to injury. The Herzberg 2017 study of nearly 70 thousand female participants, is just one significant piece of research out of many that has directly linked hormones to injury – finding that females were at a significantly higher risk of ACL tear before ovulation, during their follicular phase.  Research also suggests that women on the combined pill appear to be less likely to tear the AC ligament in their knee.

Understanding your own body is the first step in fighting negative symptoms at certain times of the month.

  • Good sleep is always important. Sleep disturbances are common just before menstruation, so emphasis should be on a good sleep routine. The National Sleep Foundation Recommends:
    • Children aged 6 to 13 years between 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night
    • Teenagers aged 14 to 17 years between 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night
    • Younger adults aged 18 to 25 years between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night (this currently remains the same sleep duration up until the age of 64 years)
  • Focus on a healthy, balanced diet. Foods high in sugar and saturated fat can worsen negative symptoms. Focus on fruit, vegetables and fibre.
    • Eating foods high in iron such as red meat, spinach and almonds is important during menstruation to make up for iron losses from menstrual blood loss.
    • Take control by tracking the cycle. You can use a calendar, note book or an app. This app is free for female athletes to use to track their cycle and prepare better.
  • Be aware of risk to injuries: Whilst injury can occur to males or females at any time, research shows that during days 1 to 14 of your monthly cycle, you are higher risk to injury – esp ACL (knee injuries). Warm up and cool down properly.