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England Women: The doctor in 'empowering' players to succeed

England Women: The doctor in 'empowering' players to succeed

Comment on the photo, English defender Niamh Charles suffered a back injury that affected her pelvic floor

The doctor “empowers” the English woman to succeed

  • author, Sarah Dawkins
  • roles, BBC Sport

From European champions to World Cup finalists, England's Lionesses have enjoyed unprecedented success in recent years.

So what is their secret?

Coach Sarina Wegman and her backroom staff were instrumental in establishing a winning mentality.

But there is one member in particular who has helped achieve a competitive advantage by inspiring change of a different kind — tackling taboos around the validity of mathematics.

Dr Retan Mehta has been working at the Football Association (FA) as Head of Gynecology for almost 10 years.

Talking about menstruation, sports bras, breast health and the pelvic floor has helped the team go from strength to strength.

He told BBC Sport: “We started looking at the menstrual cycle about five to six years ago. We want to enable our athletes to understand themselves better.

“I was really surprised by how open the guys were, and as a doctor in a women's setting, I think I was probably more aware than them.”

The FA's approach to female health became more sophisticated three years ago when it began working with an elite sports bioanalytics company, which provides platforms for tracking menstrual cycles through apps.

“It's trying to understand each individual because it's not one size fits all,” Dr. Mehta explained.

One player had bouts of nausea, and by tracking his cycle for an extended period of time they realized it was linked to a certain time of the month.

“We will never get to zero. It is a natural process for a female – she goes through hormonal changes and this will unfortunately lead to some symptoms that can be impactful.

“We're not going to remove all of that, but can we make it better? Can we make it 1% better, can we make it 10% better?”

Attention is now turning to the health of the pelvic floor, the area of ​​muscles that control the bladder and bowels.

Dr Mehta, who is also Reading's club doctor, believes this may have the greatest impact on female players, with research suggesting that 20% of players in the professional game are affected.

He added: “You hear scattered comments from players about leakage, especially around gym and sporting activities and other issues including pain and discomfort.”

“It's a gap in our understanding at this point but we want to fill that gap.”

Discussions around the pelvic floor are one of a number of women's health projects recently launched by the FA, while Chelsea recently became the first club in the Women's Super League to appoint a pelvic health specialist.

Investment in this area has already helped a number of players, including England and Chelsea defender Niamh Charles.

“There are some movements in the gym that I don't feel comfortable doing with my back, but when I connect them to my pelvic floor and start breathing properly, the pain goes away.”

The Lionesses' approach to female health has now trickled down through the track teams down to the under-16s, with a strong focus on educational programs and one-on-one sessions with the female athletes.

“It's everyday stuff and high-performance stuff,” Charles added.

He added: “When I play football, it will be very important, but also when I retire, it will remain important throughout my life.”