The Challenges Facing Female Athletes

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Female athletes have challenges to face with their sports that males often do not. Here are some tips to help females stay healthy and allow them to remain in their sports.
Females have higher incidences of knee injuries for a variety of reasons. They are much more at risk of tearing the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament – in the front of the knee). We feel this is related to several factors. Females tend to have more weakness in their hamstrings (muscles in the back of the leg). It is important to make sure the hamstrings are strong to help protect the ACL. Sports like volleyball and basketball, which require constant jumping, require good hamstring strength to assist the athlete in landing from her jumps. In addition, females have a wider pelvis than males, also putting extra stress on the knees. While we can’t change the pelvis, good strength and flexibility of the hip muscles can help protect the knees.
Another challenge facing female athletes is called the female athlete triad. This is a combination of eating disorders, amenorrhea (lack of a period), and osteoporosis. These issues are found in females with frequent and intense athletic participation. Eating disorders can be either anorexia (lack of eating) or bulimia (binge eating). Athletes will do this to control their weight and often end up underweight and undernourished.
Amenorrhea can either be defined as late onset of puberty or no menstrual cycles for greater than 6 months. Rest from an intense athletic schedule often helps restore a normal cycle.
Osteoporosis is characterized as loss of bone mineral and often comes from amenorrhea. Bone loss can be stopped with return of menstruation, however, the bone that is already lost cannot be replaced. This can cause future risk of fractures to hips or spine.
If you are or know an athlete with any of the triad symptoms, you should consult your family MD. Any questions about female athlete knee injuries can be answered at Center for Joint Surgery and Sports Medicine at (301)665-4575.
Laura Blair is a physical therapist at Center for Joint Surgery and Sports Medicine.