Injuries Common to Female Athletes

When you play hard in your athletic career, you’re bound to suffer injury at some point. This is true if you’re a man or a woman. Sports injuries tend to be related to the sport rather than a person’s gender. 

Female athletes do seem to be more prone to certain injuries compared to males. It’s not entirely understood why, but may have to do something with hormones, physical differences in men’s and women’s bodies, and how they perform in sports. 

Here are some of the more common injuries we see in female athletes at Orthopaedics of Atlanta and Aesthetic Institute.  

Injuries to the ACL

The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is located in the center of the knee and controls rotation and forward movement of your shin bone. The ACL can tear or rupture if you land wrong when jumping, stop suddenly, or pivot awkwardly.

Female athletes land differently than men. They tend to be more upright as they hit a surface, so ACL injuries are two to eight times more common in women. 

We may recommend our female athletes wear a knee brace to support the knee ligaments and learn proper techniques to land in a way that protects the knee. 

If you should suffer an ACL injury, we recommend immediate rest, ice, compression, and elevation therapy (RICE) as well as over-the-counter pain medications to help with pain and swelling. 

If you have a minor tear, your ACL may heal on its own with modified activity or full rest. Of course, if you have a severe tear or notable pain, we may recommend surgery for ACL reconstruction. 

Runner’s knee

Known as patellofemoral syndrome, runner’s (or jumper’s) knee shows up as soreness in the front of your knee and around the kneecap. You’ll find climbing stairs and kneeling down painful and the joint will feel stiff. 

Doing too much too soon can lead to runner’s knee. So, add volume and intensity gradually and wear proper footwear to prevent its development. If you do develop patellofemoral syndrome, cross-train more or reduce your activity level, use over-the-counter pain medications to reduce pain, and participate in physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the knee. 

We may suggest orthotics or braces to prevent ongoing pain.

Plantar fasciitis

Nagging pain and inflammation in your heel may be a sign of plantar fasciitis. This condition affects the plantar fascia, which runs along the sole of the foot. Women tend to experience plantar fasciitis more often than men. The inflammation and stiffness develop often in women athletes with especially flat feet or high arches. 

To help prevent plantar fasciitis, we recommend you stretch your calves, Achilles tendon, and the bottom of your foot. We may also prescribe custom orthotics to support your foot and, if you have chronic plantar fasciitis, surgery. 

Shoulder injuries

Women experience shoulder injuries, namely in the rotator cuff, as a result of repetitive actions that occur in swimming, tennis, or volleyball. 

Women tend to have less upper body strength than men, which means more shoulder instability. The rotator cuff complex of muscles is just weaker and supporting tissue in the area is also looser in female athletes as compared to males. 

Prevent shoulder issues by doing regular weight training to strengthen your back, shoulder, and arm muscles. We can help put together a plan for you. Regular flexibility work for the shoulder is also important. 

Treatment for shoulder issues includes rest and immobilization. We may recommend physical therapy as you heal and, in more severe cases, surgery to repair the injury. 

Stress fractures

Stress fractures are more common in women because they tend to lose bone mass starting around age 30. These micro-breaks in the bones occur when you train too intensely too soon — meaning you didn’t gradually introduce the activity. 

Women who are particularly lean or are highly restrictive when it comes to their diet are also at risk. Women who have menstrual irregularities due to intense training may also be at risk because of their diminished estrogen production. 

Prevent stress fractures by eating a balanced diet with enough calories to support your energy and nutrient needs. Increase training gradually over time, rather than adding a lot of intensity and volume at once. 

We treat stress fractures with rest (usually 6-8 weeks) and over-the-counter pain relievers. If you have recurrent stress fractures, you may benefit from shoe inserts or braces for the affected area. 

At Orthopaedics of Atlanta and Aesthetic Institute, Dr. W. Joseph Absi treats all sorts of sports injuries in women and in men. He and the experienced team can help you feel comfortable as you heal and use effective strategies to prevent injury in the future. Call today for an appointment or use the online tool if you need a sports medicine specialist

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