Women are Injured More Often During Exercise

Who gets injured more in sports: men or women?  If you've ever watched the Olympics, you know: it's a girl thing.  Studies show that female athletes are injured more than male athletes.  So, what can women do to protect themselves?  Quit thinking and working out like a man.

Vicki Harber, exercise physiologist at the University of Alberta, wrote a resource paper for the movement Canadian Sport for Life entitled, The Female Athlete Perspective. Harber says, "Female athletes experience dramatically higher rates of specific musculoskeletal injuries and medical conditions compared to male athletes."  According to her paper, and depending on the sport, "there can be a two-to-six-fold difference in these types of sports injuries between male and female athletes. That's because many training programs developed for female athletes are built on research using young adult males and don't take the intrinsic biological differences between the sexes into account." Harber warns, "Anatomical differences and unique cultural pressures amount to disproportionately high risk factors for active females."

What kinds of injuries? Knees and pelvic injuries are most common in female athletes, with the number one sports injury being tears or strains to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).  ACL injuries are common in skiing, soccer, gymnastics, ice skating, and other sports that involve twisting and turning motions in the legs.  Harber says women have stronger quadriceps and weaker hamstrings than men.  With a few training modifications however, she thinks these sports injuries are largely preventable.

Female athletes are also more vulnerable to stress fractures and early-onset osteoporosis than men or non-athletic women.  These increased vulnerabilities are being attributed to a condition called The Female Athlete Triad.  According to the Female Athlete Triad Coalition, (an international non-profit coalition that supports healthy women and athletics), The Female Athlete Triad is a syndrome of three interrelated conditions that exist on a continuum of severity, including:

  • Energy Deficit/Disordered Eating
  • Menstrual Disturbances/Amenorrhea
  • Bone Loss/Osteoporosis

In addition to putting athletes at risk for bone damage, it's also associated with other dangerous illnesses and may affect long-term fertility.  Inadequate food intake is thought to be the main cause of this condition, and Harber says cultural influence is a big factor. "They're the same factors that affect all women with the pressure to lose weight or attain some ideal body type," she said.

Harber says young women don't always know how much food they should eat in order to perform well athletically and stay healthy in the long run.  Since most athletic studies have been performed on men, and women are under increased pressure to perform and look good, they may not receive the right athletic and nutritional guidance they need. 

Harber believes the solution is to increase girls and women's athletic programs.  Girls who play sports grow up with more self-confidence and body-confidence and may be more tuned in to their own physical needs.  Plus, the more girls who play sports, the more emphasis women's sports will receive.  Harber says research programs are now developing that focus solely on improving women's athletics.