We know female athletes are over four times more likely to sustain an ACL injury than their male counterparts. However, a recent study found females are also at a higher risk for overuse injuries—especially to the lower body.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics assessed 3,000 injuries that occurred in 20 high school sports. The researchers at the Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center found overuse injuries occur most frequently in girls track, girls field hockey and girls lacrosse. For boys, swimming and diving caused the most overuse injuries. However, the injury rate for boys was less than 50 percent of the rate in the three girls sports.
Dr. Thomas Best, who led the study, concluded that young athletes are playing sports more frequently than in the past, causing their bodies to break down from wear and tear.
"These young people spend more time playing sports both in competition and in practice," said Best in a video interview summarizing the study. "So there's a correlation there between the amount of time that they're playing and the increased incidence of injuries."
He points to the competitive sports landscape. Athletes are practicing and training more than ever, and many are not putting enough emphasis on their recovery. Also, more athletes are specializing in one sport at an earlier age. The idea is to master one sport early, but this causes poor athletic development, muscle imbalances and more wear and tear from doing the same thing over and over again. For instance, track is very repetitive, and that's where the highest rates of injury occur.
The study did not identify specifically why female athletes experience higher overuse injuries. However, Dr. Best pointed to nutrition as a potential issue. "During this point of their lives, this is when girls are developing bones at the greatest rate," he said. "It's incredibly important that they're getting the proper amounts of calcium and vitamin D."
From a strength and conditioning perspective, there's a general misconception among female athletes that if they lift like boys, they'll get bulky. This couldn't be further from the truth—they'll get stronger, and it's very difficult for girls to get big and bulky muscles. Unfortunately, the misconception ultimately causes them to perform workouts designed for fitness rather than for sports performance.
Check out this strength training program for female athletes.
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