The IOC Medical Committee recently released a handbook titled “The Female Athlete”, which has been shared by the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM). The handbook details a number of considerations when it comes to females in sport. If you’re after a deep understanding/reading, you can get your hands on it right here.
In this article, we’re going to focus on chapter two “Injury prevention in the female athlete”. Our hope is to provide a brief and digestible overview of some of the key points raised and potentially throw in our opinion every now and again.
First and foremost, we need to get an understanding of who is affected by injury.
There has been an exponential increase in female participation rates in the last 40 years. With this, there has been an exponential rise in injury rates of female athletes – annoyingly obvious.
What is less obvious is that the knee is one of the most common sites of injury, with predictions suggesting that 1 in 20 collegiate level (university) athletes and 1 in 50 high school level athletes suffer a knee injury.
There are a few other less specific statistical recordings available.
What is of interest is that female athletes between the age of 14-18 years old are twice as likely to suffer a non-contact knee injury when compared to males of the same age and sports.
One of the most interesting points raised, at least to us, is the quote below:
“At the professional level, the ratio of ACL injuries in male compared with female athletes approximates one; however, it is difficult to interpret whether or not this represents a true decrease. One could speculate that at least it is partly due to drop out of the previously injured players (e.g., “survival of the fittest”).”
In regards to injury prevention - particularly considering land based sports, the handbook makes first reference to “multifaceted neuromuscular training programs”.
Additionally, reference to preseason screening to identify sport and sex specific risk factors associated with previous injury.
Put simply, programs that target proprioception/balance, jumping & landing techniques, strength, endurance and flexibility.
From this, we’ll highlight two questions for consideration:
1. How can we improve early participation rates and reduce participation drop out rates?
For us, the solution is two tiered.
First, it is about letting young girls be involved in play. Backyard cricket, tree climbing, sibling wrestling to name a few. It goes against societal norms, but the development of movement capabilities that comes from such play will have a huge influence on the way they move as they grow older.
Second, is to encourage various participation (and avoid specialisation for as long as possible). As females grow older and the typical pressures of school and social lives start to play a factor, the involvement and participation in sport and activity tends to slide. Sport and the physical activity associated have wonderful influences on the social and physical wellbeing on children and adolescents.
Should a female athlete wish to compete at a higher level as they grow older, the exposure to movement and the physical demands of most play/sport type activities would improve their capabilities of handling the associated physical stresses, potentially reducing chance of injury and increased adherence.
2. What can we do to prevent injury at both early and later stages of participation?
If you were to assess the physical training (gym) programs available to aspiring adolescent male athletes (particularly in Australia) you would see an impressive amount of strength and conditioning resources available.
Compare that to the female equivalent, the difference is comical.
What young female athletes are in desperate need of is foundational strength and conditioning programs from early stages and all the way through adolescents as they transition to more competitive environments. It would be fascinating to see the effects of a high quality strength and conditioning program on developing female athletes.
At SOF, we aspire to make such programs available to all types of bodies – particularly those in need and as you can see young women are in need.
We currently run women’s off season strength and conditioning programs, with a group of athletes coming in and training together every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 6am.
If you are interested or know someone that may be interested in such a program give us a shout. We are confident our highly qualified team of exercise scientists and physiologists can facilitate the perfect program for you.
So ladies, it’s time to flip the societal norm on its head – get strong and enjoy being athletic because you can and deserve to.