The female athlete: What makes her different?
The most common injuries and ways to prevent them
Since the passage of Title IX, female athletes have made huge strides in gaining equality on the playing field, but there are differences that the female athlete must contend with that their male counterparts do not.
Girls are made differently than boys. They have different hormones, looser ligaments and a wider pelvis. They also have a menstrual cycle and this plays a larger role than some may realize. Females need to have regular menstrual cycles to keep their bones healthy and growing at a normal rate.
When girls go through intense training, barely any breaks in the year from sports and possible diet changes, this makes having a regular period difficult. Because of this, females are placed at risk for sport injuries due to weak bones, less energy and fatigue.
Are girl’s muscles and bones weaker than boys?
During an adolescent growth spurt there is an imbalance of bone growth and bone strength, making female bones weaker than boys. Adolescent females do not use the muscles in the back of their thighs when landing from a jump as often seen in males. This increases risk for serious knee injuries. Females use the large quad muscle in the front of their thighs to land from a jump. Females also have less control of their muscles during adolescence.
What are common facts and injuries of the female athlete in different sports?
- Dance: 90 percent of dancers will get injured in their career: stress fractures and foot injuries are common.
- Cheerleading: Cheerleading has become a highly competitive, sometimes dangerous sport. Cheerleading has the greatest number of catastrophic injuries including head injuries (concussions), skull fractures, neck injuries, heat illness, and electrolyte imbalance.
- Gymnastics: Injuries in this sport produce the highest number of injuries requiring surgery. Commonly wrist pain, stress fractures of the spine and ankle sprain.
- Volleyball: These players typically have better form and less injuries. Common injuries include jumper’s knee and ankle sprains.
- Soccer: Huge female athlete participation with ACL strains being the most common injury.
The most common injury is an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury in the knee:
- Females are four to five times more likely to have a non-contact ACL injury than males. This is sad because studies show that 65 percent of athletes (male and female) will no longer player soccer within seven years after an ACL injury.
- Adolescent female soccer players are at the greatest risk for negative long term effects, with more than 22 percent needing revision surgery or surgery on the other knee after an ACL injury.
- At least two-thirds of ACL tears occur when an athlete is cutting, pivoting, accelerating, or landing from a jump; tear occurs within the first 40 milliseconds after initial ground contact. This impacts the female athlete a great deal when you look at the sports many of them are competing in such as gymnastics and soccer.
Female athletes may be faced with more obstacles, but there are ways your female athlete can reduce the risk of injury, including:
- Do not allow knees to go inward during jumping, landing, cutting and pivoting.
- Land softly with knees slightly bent.
- Core/trunk control needs to be part of training.
- Increase awareness when adolescents have a growth spurt as they may be more at risk for injury.
- Monitor menstrual regularity.
- Maintain a balanced diet and stay hydrated.
- Train on dry/safe surfaces.
As a female athlete myself, I’m proud of the strides we’ve made toward equality on the playing field. But we also face new challenges as we compete at a higher level. Make sure to follow the above tips and stay safe.
Education is the key to keeping our young female athletes in their sport vs. being on the sideline with an injury. To learn more Cook Children’s has an annual SPORTS Symposium to educate those who work with our athletes: Coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists and school nurses.
Please join us on July 21, 2016, to learn more about the female athlete in the morning and what is sending athletes to the ER in the afternoon.
Early Bird Special Ends June 30, 2016
Amanda Vick, PT, DPT, is a Cook Children's SPORTS physical therapist.The SPORTS Program at Cook Children’s offers educational material for parents, coaches, trainers and nurses for sports-specific injuries. Our team of experts have specialized training in pediatrics and collaborate together to share their knowledge in growing bodies and dynamic training principles.