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Getting Back to Football Fitness



BLACKROLL supported athlete Gemma Shepherd plays for Charlton Ladies Football Club, currently 3rd in the Southern Division Premier League. Following a recent injury and hip operation, Gemma and her Physiotherapist Gary Faber give us an insight into her recovery and advice on how to get back to full football fitness.

1. Can you tell us about your background and how you came to play women’s football?

Gemma – I first started playing football around the age of 4 or 5. My dad took me to Coerver Coaching close to where I was living and I really enjoyed it. I then went on to play for Arsenal’s centre of Excellence from the age of 9 until my early teens. I took a short break from the game to pursue other sporting interests then came back to it in my later teens until the present day. I’ve played for Barnet and West Ham along the way and have been at Charlton for 5 years now. At present I have 110 goals in 97 games. I treat my life as though I was a professional athlete and I’m careful with my food and train in the gym as well as on the pitch.

2. What was your injury a result of and what does a hip labral operation entail?

Gemma – I feel that the injuries have occured from a combination of overworking and fatigue, the season as well as our training schedule is long and tiring. In the last few years I have sustained two major injuries. One was an ACL tear in 2013 and subsequent surgical reconstruction. More recently, in October last year I was diagnosed with a significant Labral tear and impingement in my hip, which again required surgery and rehabilitation. I had been playing on for a while trying to manage, but had to succumb to the fact it was causing me problems. Both injuries I believe were basically born out of overuse and extreme fatigue.

A hip labral repair is basically when an orthopaedic surgeon stitches the cartilage of the hip back into place, the tear will often cause the athlete to be in a large amount of pain and will limit their capabilities and movement. Dependant on where in the capsule the tear is, it can cause problems in different hip movements. Due to the large volume of work and movement the hip undergoes, especially in team sports (running/sprinting, twisting, turning and jumping) its is a problem that needs to be addressed once properly diagnosed by a physiotherapist. An MRI scan is often required to confirm and provide imagery of the tear.

3. How long are you out for and what has been the recovery process?

Gemma – The ACL repair and rehabilitation meant I was out of the game for 9 months and the more recent hip injury has kept me out for just over 3 months. I have been out for just over 3 months with this hip labral repair.

The recovery process was careful management, weight bearing and strengthening after surgery, progressing to getting rid of the crutches, gait re-training so walking properly again, and then progressively increasing the strength exercises and at the appropriate times loading heavier weights in the gym.

When returning to pitch based activities it generally follows some sessions working in straight lines, then sessions with cutting and turning involved, and finally introducing the ball to sessions. Returning to training is generally graded from 50% sessions and increased as able over 2-4 weeks. Approximately between 10-14 weeks is an average spell of time this type of injury can take to return from.

4. What are the key exercises you recommend for getting back to fitness?

Gary – The exercises will vary through the stages of rehab, but early after surgery exercise will begin, the initial goals are to restore movement to the hip, and gain global strength of the surrounding muscles, additional work on walking and weight bearing on the leg also begins early. Ideally lots of work to develop quads, hamstring, glutes, hip flexors, lower back and core are part of a programme.

Regular physio reviews and sessions are needed to monitor progress, enhance movement and progress mobility. Some consultants work from a guide called a protocol for a hip labral repair and may suggest certain movements or exercises aren’t performed for a set amount of time to allow adequate soft tissue healing. Physiotherapy is important in building strength while tissues heal.

5. What advice would you give you to anyone with hip problems in sport and how to avoid injury?

Gary – The best advice would always be see your physio if you’re lucky enough to have one at your club. If not to seek the advice of a good one. If you continue to play with niggles and problems they can lead to longer spells of injury, or even worse injuries.

My next tip would be to always put effort into strength work, don’t just rely on a natural fitness or cardio based work at the gym. It is important to be strong and well rounded to be a robust athlete.

Thirdly I would recommend always have a recovery programme in place, athletes respond really well to cold/hot baths, foam rolling, stretching, and soft tissue massage. It is important to keep the body functioning as well as possible.

6. Your top 5 ways to use a foam roller?

Gary – I personally like to promote foam rolling as a good tool to establish good maintenance habits. By that I mean the athlete takes resonsibility for their own well being. A foam roller provides the tissues with myofascial release. The best ways to use it are pre and post event. For a footballer I would recommend the session to work on the following muscles.

1. Quads

2. Hamstrings

3. Calf

4. Tib anterior (shin)

5. Glutes

6. ITB (side of the thigh)

7. Adductors (inside thigh)

It is a cheap piece of equipment and a BLACKROLL foam roller can be purchased for less than £30 if you’re looking for good quality. By establishing good habits is a key tool to help reduce the possibility of injury and prepare and recover a player properly for sport.

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