The Gender Gap in the World of Sports Medicine

Athletic woman jumping over hurdleThanks to the women’s rights movement and legislation such as Title IX, women have equal access to sports on every level including collegiate and professional athletics. However, female athletes should be aware of the potential risks they’re predisposed to when participating in the world of contact sports.

Why Flexibility Can Be a Bad Thing

It’s no secret that men and women’s bodies are built differently, and these differences can play a role in how the body reacts to physical activity. For example, women’s joints, ligaments and tendons are more lax and flexible compared to men, and women also have less upper body strength than their male counterparts. The combination of a flexible shoulder with less strength in the supporting muscles can mean a less stable joint overall… along with a correspondingly higher incidence of shoulder injuries.

These tendencies don’t stop at the shoulder but are also relevant when looking at other joints such as the knee. For example, compared to men, female athletes are considerably more likely to have an ACL injury and to incur stress fractures. It’s also believed that hormonal differences may contribute to a woman’s susceptibility for some sports-related injuries, although this has yet to be clinically proven.

Bridging the Gap

Patient education and prevention—such as encouraging strength training to reinforce muscles surrounding knees and shoulders as a great way to increase stability in the joint and reduce the likelihood of injury—are key to closing this injury gap. Increasing awareness among female athletes of the unique risks they face when participating in sports is the best way to help reduce those risks and prevent injuries. Female athletes should work closely with their coaches, trainers and sports medicine specialists to counteract possible vulnerabilities.