3 Things Every Girl Who Plays Sports Should Know
Girl athletes are more susceptible to certain injuries. An orthopedic surgeon from Shriners Hospitals for Children, Philadelphia explains how they can better prevent them.
By Susan Stopper
More girls participate in sports than ever, but amid the excitement of goals scored and records, broken researchers have found that they are more vulnerable to certain injuries than boys.
1. More ACL Injuries
Research shows that female athletes suffer anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injuries, on average, three to four times more often than males. These injuries can happen without contact and are common in sports where players cut and pivots, such as soccer, basketball, and lacrosse.
Corinna Franklin, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Shriners Hospitals for Children, Philadelphia, and director of the hospital’s FIERCE (Female Initiative: Evaluation and Rehabilitation Care Excellence) program, explains that after puberty there are some anatomical differences in girls, such as weaker hamstrings, that affect how they land and put them at higher risk for an ACL injury.
“If girls strengthen their hamstrings and learn different landing techniques, it can help them lower the risk,” says Franklin.
2. A Triple Threat to Girls
In sports where their appearance or a lower body mass is a benefit, such as dance, distance running, and gymnastics, girls may not eat enough to support their athletic exertion. This can lead not only to less energy but menstrual dysfunction and bone loss. This Female Athlete Triad, also known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), is particularly risky for girls’ long-term musculoskeletal health since they develop peak bone mass during their late teen years, explains Franklin.
Signs that a girl may not be getting enough nutrition to support her energy output include precipitous weight loss, decrease in performance, interruption of the menstrual cycle, anxiety and stress fractures. Working with a dietitian and doctor can help achieve the right nutrition and exercise balance.
That kind of cross-discipline approach is the hallmark of FIERCE, which has an all-female team of physical therapists, physician assistants, nurses, rehabilitation physician, orthopedic surgeon, dietitian and biomedical engineer, who can evaluate patients’ range of motion.
3. Benefits Outweigh Risks
Despite these and other risks of injuries, the benefits of girls’ participation in sports far outweigh the risks. Regular physical activity lowers women’s risk for chronic illnesses — including heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s — and has positive effects on mental health, reports the Women’s Sports Foundation.
In addition, Franklin says, “Participation in sports builds girls’ strength, self-esteem, teamwork and leadership skills.”
If they know the risks and train to mitigate them, girls can have a positive experience. If an injury does occur, prompt, appropriate treatment can minimize the setback.
Free Programs for Teams, Groups
To help girls avoid injury, FIERCE offers free educational programs for small groups and teams of female athletes ages 12 to 18. They are held at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital or at a location of the team’s choosing within 35 miles of the hospital. The programs can be tailored to the sport to include risk assessments, injury-prevention tips, nutrition, and mental-health discussions.
When an injury does occur, the FIERCE team is not only equipped to get the athlete back on her feet but does so as part of Shriners’ philosophy of accepting all families regardless of their insurance or resources.
“At Shriners Hospital, we treat everyone the same, regardless of their ability to pay,” says Franklin.
Because every girl deserves the chance to play.
Susan Stopper is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer
3351 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19140