Um, rude? "Female teen athletes are more susceptible to sports-related injuries"

The 2020s are looking bright for girls and women in sports. The times are changing, especially with a drastic increase in women’s participation in competitive sports. According to Yale Medicine, in the 70s there were fewer than 300,000 girls played high school sports as compared to 2018, the number rose by more than 10x to 3.4 million!

With all this ~amazing~ progress, it has become clear that female athletes are getting injured, a lot. Why is that? We have to consider all of the things that could place female athletes at a higher risk of sports related injuries including: hormonal influences, wider hips affecting alignment of the hips, knees, and ankles, muscle composition, bone structure, and more ligament mobility.

Some of the most common injuries include:

  • ACL Tears
  • Knee and ankle ligament sprains
  • Stress fractures
  • Shin splints
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Tendonitis

So the big question is, how can we prevent these injuries with the grind of practice, games, and multiple sport participation everyday?

1. Sport and movement specific training

This means strengthening the muscles required for stability, because we tend to have looser joints. If we strengthen our stabilizers (glutes, deep core, feet, rotator cuff) we can support our prime movers that tend to be overused like the hip flexors, bicep, quadriceps, adductors (inner thigh muscles) and rectus abdominis. For example, if we can strengthen the glutes (our hip muscles) and use them muscles to support our movement like running or planting the foot to kick a ball, we decrease the risk of an ACL tear or ankle sprain because the glutes control our knee and foot position and help control the impact of jumping and landing.

2. Practicing proper form and recruiting the correct muscles, i.e. engaging the core when throwing a softball

It's important that you are practicing common movements that you do with your sport with load and resistance so you can become stronger and more efficient in that movement by recruiting more muscles to support it. If you hit in volleyball, wood-chops with a weight or resistance band are a great exercise that engages all of the shoulder muscles you need to hit the ball, while also engaging the core to provide more support to the joint and produce even more force.

3. Cross-training

It is *very* easy to overtrain. Especially in young, female athletes. Practicing one sport too much leads to overuse and the wearing out of our primary muscles, which could actually harm performance and increase risk of injury. This is why it's important to change up activity and sport throughout the week to ensure you are using unique and different motor patterns and muscles. This gives the muscles you use so much in your specialized sport an opportunity to rest, your brain a new challenge to learn new movements and therefore improve reactivity and coordination, and gives other muscles an opportunity to move and strengthen to support your other muscles when you're playing your preferred sport.

4. Rest!!

Getting enough rest is key to recovering fatigued muscles. Rest is important during practice as well as during the week, the month, the training season, and the year. Rest intervals differ based on the type of training you're doing, so if you're working on anaerobic capacity (activity done when you're out of breath), less rest can be better. If you are focusing on strength training you are supposed to take 1-4 minute rest breaks between sets to adequately recover!

If we're looking at the week, if you're focusing on cardiovascular activity it is okay to train every day, but the length of time spent training should alternate. If you have a long distance day, the next day should be focused on shorter intervals with longer recoveries. If you are strength training it is important to take 1 day off between training different muscle groups, so if you exercise back and chest one day, the next day should focus on the lower body.

We should really take 1 week every 4-6 weeks to do lower impact and recovery-type exercises to give the body an opportunity to heal and recover from training. This includes walking, stretching, yoga, and low impact exercise like barre or pilates. If you overtrain and neglect to take time to give your body rest, you may end up injuring yourself or even stalling growth and progress. Sometimes it can be hard when you're feeling strong and in a groove with your routine, but it can be very valuable time spent.

5. Avoid over-training

A great rule of thumb is to avoid practicing more hours per week than years you've been alive if you're under the age of 16, and less than 22 hours of practice or training if you're over 15.

6. Get enough vitamin D ! 

Supplementing daily with at least 2000 IU of vitamin D3 is shown to decrease risk of injury and improve power output in sport in young athletes. When one study compared 2 groups of ballet dancers, who trained the same, but gave one group vitamin D3 and the other placebo, the group who took vitamin D3 tested with stronger muscles, higher vertical leap, missed fewer days of rehearsal and practice, and had significantly fewer injuries (including stress fractures!).

How can a physical therapist help if you’ve come across and new injury or keep encountering the same injuries?

  • Obtain a thorough assessment of posture, walking, squatting and jumping mechanics
  • Test the strength of muscles that relate to your sport
  • Assess the flexibility of tight muscles
  • Address the pain through soft tissue mobilization, stretching, cupping, taping
  • Provide a specific exercise program related to your injury and lifestyle

You (and your daughters) deserve to play your sport to the best of your ability. Get assessed so you can start working toward playing better and harder, with less pain and without injury.

1. Are ACL Tears Really More Common in Women?

2. Wyon, M., Koutedakis, Y., Wolman, R., Nevill, A. M., & Allen, N. (2014). The influence of winter vitamin D supplementation on muscle function and injury occurrence in elite ballet dancers: A controlled study. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 8–12.

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