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4 Most Common Sports Injuries in Women

By Matthew J. Panzarella, MD, Sentara Sports Medicine Center

Whether you run, swim, bike, hit a ball or exercise in any number of ways, you may also have spent some time with a doctor or physical therapist to treat a sports-related injury.

As more and more women participate in sports at all levels, many will also turn to sports medicine care at some point to get back on track after an injury.

Differences in women’s and men’s physiology play a role in how the body reacts to physical stress. These changes begin in puberty and may cause females to experience certain injuries more frequently than males.

Top Injuries for Women

For female athletes, it’s important to know which injuries are most likely to occur so measures can be taken to prevent them in the first place.

ACL – Female athletes are affected by noncontact anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries two to 10 times more frequently than their male counterparts. The ACL connects the femur to the tibia (in the shin) and stabilizes the knee.

ACL injuries commonly occur when an athlete cuts or stops while landing, with the highest risk for females occurring when skiing or playing basketball, field hockey, lacrosse and soccer.

Research suggests that females are at increased risk due to alignment of the legs, landing mechanics and decreased strength in the hamstring muscles.

Knee – Patellofemoral injuries, such as anterior knee pain, patellar (kneecap) dislocations and patellar cartilage wear, also occur frequently in female athletes. Risk factors for women include poor alignment of the pelvis, knee and foot; muscle weakness and/or imbalance; altered patellar position; and trauma.

Shoulder – The shoulder is another body part where females have significant differences compared with male athletes. Female athletes are at higher risk for shoulder injuries because of loose ligaments in the shoulder, increased muscle and joint flexibility (range of motion), and decreased upper-body strength. High-risk sports associated with shoulder injuries in females include diving, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, volleyball and throwing sports.

Concussions ­– Finally, studies have found that female athletes sustain significantly higher numbers of concussions than male athletes. In fact, a few studies have shown the number of concussions sustained by female athletes to be double the number occurring in male athletes, particularly in basketball, soccer and volleyball.

Female athletes may sustain more severe concussions, for two reasons. First, women tend to have smaller heads and more slender necks, so they can experience nearly 50 percent more head acceleration during head trauma. Second, hormonal differences between males and females may play a role after a brain injury, worsening post-concussion symptoms, such as headache, nausea and dizziness, for females. These factors also can lead to a more extended post-concussion recovery period for women.

We are dedicated to caring for female athletes by providing education to raise awareness about the issues and injuries that specifically affect female athletes. This is an essential part of the care we provide at the Sentara Sports Medicine Center and at Sentara Martha Jefferson Orthopedics. Our program is designed to provide female athletes with comprehensive, coordinated care from sports medicine experts who understand the unique needs of women in sports. We look forward to working with you!