University of Pennsylvania Health System

Penn Health and Wellness

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Are Women Athletes More Susceptible to Injury?

Erik Thorell, DO, discusses if gender plays a role in individuals being more susceptible to injury. Dr. Thorell practices at Penn Medicine Woodbury Heights.

In a perfect world, every run would be completely pain-free. No soreness, no aches and no lingering effects from the previous workout. Unfortunately, many runners constantly deal with a slight disturbance. There are things that can be done by, both men and women, to reduce the risk of injury.

Injuries to athletes
Regardless of how careful you are, injuries do occur. And, for women, the rate of injury is slightly higher. Runner’s knee, stress fractures, shin splints and plantar fasciitis are all injuries that are more common with female runners.

“One anatomical difference between men and women leading to greater predisposition to lower extremity injuries is the wider female pelvis, which results in a larger Q-angle,” says Erik Thorell, DO. “This results in increased stress across the knee in particular.”

Simply put, men and women are built differently. Women tend to have smaller, weaker muscles supporting their knees, as well as more lax ligaments. They typically have a larger hip width to femoral length ratio, which leads to greater hip adduction (muscles located towards the lateral portion of the thigh contract and pull the thigh away from the midline of the body). Females are also more at risk of certain injuries because there is added motion in their hips and pelvis.

When it comes to bone injuries, females are, again, more susceptible than their male counterparts. Women have smaller bone dimensions and are predisposed to lower bone density. Also, estrogen, a hormone in women that protects bones, decreases sharply as women age. All of these factors increase the risk of broken bones.

“Though gender differences do predispose women more to certain musculoskeletal injuries, attention to bone health, nutrition, core strengthening and a well-structured exercise routine can mitigate some of these problems,” explains Dr. Thorell.

Tips to Reduce the Risk of Injury

Because women suffer sports injuries more often than men, it is important they take extra care prior to playing sports or exercising. Below we offer certain exercises and other helpful tips:
  • Leg lifts, back bridges and standing hip flexors help to improve motion and flexibility in the hip and glutes area.
  • Weight-bearing exercises help to build and maintain bone density.  Attend dance classes, go for hikes, pick up aerobics or simply get into fast walking.
  • Balance exercises, such as Tai-Chi, can help strengthen legs.
  • Wear proper footwear and work out on appropriate (not very hard) surfaces.
  • Don’t suddenly intensify or lengthen your workouts.

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