Skip to content

Elora physiotherapist focuses on helping young female athletes remain in their sport

Kristin Bignell began noticing similar injuries among some younger female athletes coming to her for treatment
20220207 Kristin Bignell AD 3
Learning from her own experience as a volleyball athlete, Kristin Bignell aims to help educate and empower young female athletes in volleyball.

Kristin Bignell began noticing similar injuries among some younger female athletes coming to her for treatment. 

“In my experience working with female athletes, they're more likely to have those insidious injuries that come on with no real reason," said Bignell, who is a registered physiotherapist based in Elora. "We call them potentially 'overuse injuries' so they would be more likely to come in with an overuse injury that they would have more of a challenge in getting through."

Besides overuse injuries, Bignell notes female athletes are also more likely to have torn ACLs, back pain, shoulder pain, ankle injuries, pelvic floor and period issues compared to male athletes in their sport.

"There have been a lot of things that have been normalized in female athletes. There are a lot of pelvic floor issues, like leaking in younger female athletes,” said Bignell.

This led Bignell to create empow(HER) volleyball; a series of programs which help young female athletes in volleyball continue to stay in their sport. Her latest resource, the core performance programs, shows volleyball athletes how to incorporate core movements to improve their overall technique in the sport.

When it comes to the core, Bignell said it is the anchor of movement, especially the deep core, which controls the movement of the spine and pelvis. 

"If that piece is not doing its part, then other things are going to have to compensate to keep up with that," she said.

Helping younger female athletes has always been a field of interest for Bignell. As a former college volleyball player, Bignell said she recently made the decision to focus on volleyball as she has the most experience with the sport and athletes. She works with athletes ranging in age from 10 to 30.

“I really enjoyed working with female athletes, because I think they're so much more than when they come in with the injury they have, from a whole health standpoint, there are a lot of other pieces to take in and I don't think a whole lot of people are doing that,” said Bignell.

She also offers a group program for tweens and teens to teach them strategies to prevent injuries, and free team education. Her work has been used by local athletes and by volleyball teams in Kitchener and Waterloo.

“Any of the athletes I have worked with have been very eager to learn the information and I can see they are putting in the work to implement that information into their routines and work into changing their habits,” said Bignell. “It’s cool to see them take ownership over the information they are given and implement them into their lives.”

She adds these programs for female athletes will always be a work in progress because the research is lagging or lacking. 

"As new information becomes available and learning what works for athletes and what doesn't, it's going to be an ongoing process and it's definitely going to continue to evolve over the years," said Bignell.

In university, Bignell recalls developing injuries while playing volleyball. At one point in her career, she suffered a back injury that required surgery. While she did recover from the surgery, her performance in her sport wasn't the same. 

“It was really a matter of I didn’t have the right information and the people around me didn’t have the right information and didn’t know what to look for,” said Bignell, “and now, that’s why I’m really passionate about helping young, female athletes, specifically volleyball players, arming them with the knowledge skills and support that they need to play with confidence and advocate for their needs and set the stage for lifelong success in their health and within their sport.

“I think generally within the sporting world, there have been a lot of steps taken in the right direction to support female athletes, but we’re not there yet, and I think we need to build on the momentum.”

Looking back on the past couple of years, Bignell said the pandemic was the reason she opened her practice, East Mill Physio. After losing her job at the beginning of the pandemic, Bignell said she decided to go the entrepreneurial route and open her own practice. 

“The entrepreneurial journey led me to look a little bit closer at what I wanted to do with my career, and who I most wanted to serve and help, and that’s how I started empow(HER) volleyball,” said Bignell, “ I think there were enough challenges for young, female athletes before the pandemic, and then you add the pandemic and closures and all of that, and it just made me want to help them even more."