Care for Female Athletes

Although athletic activity is equally beneficial to men and women, it’s a different game when it comes to sports injuries in the two sexes. Men and women are built differently, so there are some real differences when risk of injury is considered.

Form, alignment, composition and physiology all have a hand in how one’s core reacts to high-intensity landings and maneuvers, hamstring strength and more. By around age 10 to 12, when differences in body makeup become more prominent, girls typically begin to perform differently than boys at sports—and experience different types of injuries.

  • Hormonal differences come into play, having an impact on body fat (girls have more) and lean body mass (girls have less).
  • A lean body mass has something to do with the higher prevalence of bone fractures in males. When injury occurs, it’s usually in the form of an outright break rather than a pull or strain. In female athletes, there’s a higher incidence of ligament tears and sprains.
  • Knee injuries and ACL tears are more prevalent in females, due in part to what is referred to as differences in the “lower extremity chain” ― or mechanics of the lower body ― between males and females.
  • Females are built with wider pelvises than males and are less developed in terms of muscles, which leads to weaker inner quadricep and pelvic muscles.

Specialty Care for Female Knee and Shoulder Injuries

Due to a woman’s body makeup, female athletes experience greater force on their knees when engaged in high-intensity activity. As a result, women are 3 to 6 times more likely to experience ACL injuries than their male counterparts, especially in basketball, soccer and tennis, along with a higher incidence of patella (kneecap) injuries.

When it comes to shoulder-related injuries, body mechanics are at play here too. Women are not as strong up top, so they are more prone to shoulder trauma. As a result, women playing sports such as swimming, softball or volleyball typically are at increased risk for rotator cuff weakness, tightness, instability and injury.

The physicians approach to knee and shoulder conditions is to focus on the least invasive treatment whenever possible to get active women back to their pre-injury level of performance. If surgery is determined to be the best option for pain relief and mobility, minimally invasive arthroscopy, stabilization techniques and/or joint reconstruction may be recommended.

Beyond providing treatment, Drs. Dietrich and Kennedy are dedicated to teaching athletes good injury-prevention techniques such as how to properly land, practice neuromuscular control and focus on strengthening. Positive results can be achieved when athletes, young and not-so-young, female and male, work closely with their primary doctors, coaches, families and orthopedic surgeons to ensure safe and healthy play.