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Sports and Women

Sports and athletic activities naturally involve risks for injuries irrespective of gender; however, gender also plays an important role in certain types of sports injuries. Although common perception is that male athletes are more likely to be injured in sports, it is female athletes who are more prone for sports related injuries for a variety of reasons.

What are the Influencing Factors for Sports Injuries in Female Athletes?

Females are generally more likely to suffer a sports-related injury because they are built differently from males. Along with anatomical disparities, there are some physiological differences between men and women that puts female athletes in greater risk for injury.

The common causative factors for increased risk of sports injuries in women include:

  • Wider Pelvis: Typically, women have a wider pelvis than men, which results in their thigh bones angling downward more sharply than men's. This alters the alignment of women's lower bodies from the knee to the ankle. As a result, a female's knee joint endures greater stress, and the inside of the knee experiences more pressure, which can lead to an ACL tear.
  • Narrow Intercondylar Notch: Additionally, the intercondylar notch, where the ACL passes through the femur and is naturally narrower in women than men.
  • Smaller ACL: The ACL itself is also smaller in women, which makes it more prone to tears.
  • Less Muscle Mass: Females inherently have less muscle mass than men so there is less protection for their tendons and ligaments from sustaining sports-related injuries than males.
  • Reduced Hamstring Strength: Females also have less hamstring strength than men. When the hamstring isn't strong enough to balance the quadriceps muscles, there is extra stress on the ACL that may cause tearing of the ligament.
  • Looser Ligaments: Women are naturally more flexible than men, which means high-degree of laxity in ligaments. These ligaments combined with less powerful muscles puts the joints of female athletes at a greater risk of injury due to overextension of the joint.
  • High Estrogen Levels: Higher levels of the female hormone estrogen can weaken tendons and ligaments by lessening their stiffness making women more susceptible to ligament and tendon injuries. The estrogen levels rise sharply during puberty and elevate during the menstrual cycle, ACL injuries are more likely to occur in females during these times.
  • Nutrient Deficiencies: Research studies has also found that female athletes are more likely to have dietary deficiencies in vitamin B12, B3, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and protein. Women are also more likely to have an inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, which are highly essential for bone health and sports injury prevention.
  • Differences in Movement: Female athletes tend to move differently than male athletes. For example, women often land flat-footed after jumping instead of on the balls of their feet. This improper landing puts pressure on the knee as opposed to letting the ankle absorb some the force of the jump, leading to a greater risk of knee injury. Women also tend to run in a more upright position than men, which places more stress on the ACL and allows for less control over the rotation of the knee joint. Because of their wider pelvis, females tend to use only one foot when quickly changing direction, putting them at a higher risk of injury during sudden movements.

What are the Common Sports Injuries seen in Women?

The common sports-related injuries most frequently found in female athletes includes:

  • Knee Injuries: These include ligament damage like an ACL tear and irritation under the knee cap known as patellofemoral syndrome.
  • Ankle Sprains: Loosen ankle tendons and ligaments can cause ankle sprains.
  • Shoulder Strains: The instability around female athlete's shoulders can lead to rotator cuff problems as well as inflammation and tendinitis in the upper-arm area.
  • Plantar Fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis stems from small tears in the supporting tissues around the heel and arch, which may be attributed to flatfeet or abnormal alignment of the foot.
  • Shin Splints: As an overuse injury, shin splints are more common in females because they don't have as much muscle mass to support the bone.
  • Stress Fractures: Female athletes who do not practice proper nutrition, have irregular periods, or bone loss may suffer from stress fractures, especially in the lower leg or foot.

How to Prevent Sports related Injuries in Women?

Awareness of the unique medical needs of women in sports and following preventative measures lessen the chances of injury in women. General guidelines include:

  • Warmup: Do a complete warm up for major muscles before working out and keep them supple by cooling down and stretching after exercise.
  • Preseason Training: Practice workouts can build endurance, maintain your muscle strength and get your body ready to handle the stresses of the actual sports season.
  • Avoid Overtraining: Getting proper rest and recovery in between workouts is crucial to rebuilding muscle and maintaining overall health.
  • Use Protective Equipment: Wear appropriate safety equipment for your sport that reduces the risk of an injury.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water before, during and after practice to stay hydrated and reduce fatigue.

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