Good Sports: Women's sports injuries require unique treatment

2013-08-21T11:00:00Z Good Sports: Women's sports injuries require unique treatmentBy Christine Bryant
August 21, 2013 11:00 am  • 

Experts say women are particularly prone to certain types of injuries - no matter if she is a professional athlete or someone who enjoys being active on the recreational level.

While several factors can lead to an injury, the female body's design and the physical activity involved often play a crucial role in when an injury occurs.

Common injuries

Runners know one of the most frequent pains experienced occurs in the knee - often known as runner's knee or jumper's knee.

"That's a lot more common with women and it has to do with the structure of the thigh bone and the angle of the femur," says Frank Eksten, director of sports performance, sports medicine and strength and conditioning at the Franciscan St. Anthony Health Sports Medicine Institute.

Eksten, who has worked extensively with the U.S. Olympic Committee, says women's hips are generally wider than men's and the posture of the thigh is different - therefore causing her knees to knock each other.

Karen Schutters, owner of Priority Fitness and a personal trainer, says she often sees general hip pain or discomfort complaints.

"In exercising individuals, repetitive movements with poor body mechanics can cause overuse injuries in the tissue surrounding the hip joint," she says. "We see this especially in our young athletes who are directed to perform high intensity exercises."

Some sports can cause an imbalance in the body as well, where one part of the body gets stronger and the other part of the body gets weaker - eventually leading to an injury.

Tendonitis and stress fractures also are common - especially with women who run.

"Typically, it's someone who has been an active athlete, then gets away from it, and then she comes back to it," says Dr. Keith Pitchford, an orthopedic surgeon with Great Lakes Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in St. John. "They're used to working at a certain level, and in their heads, they can do it, but their body isn't used to it."

Pitchford, the team physician for the Gary SouthShore Railcats and the Chi-Town Shooters, says women who play volleyball, basketball and softball may risk shoulder injuries as well.

"Historically, they believed that windmill pitching, the underhand throw, didn't cause a risk to shoulder injuries, but they're finding there is a risk with overuse," he says. "We're going to get to where eventually we watch women's pitch count much like they do with their counterparts in baseball."


Although athletes are often encouraged to play through pain, the average person should seek help if the pain lasts more than a week, Eksten says.

"Pain is the body's way of telling us something is wrong," he says. "If you continue to train with pain, your body will adapt and try to work around that pain, and that will set you up for further injury because pain changes movement."

Less serious injuries, such as strains and sprains, can be treated with "RICE" - rest, ice, compression and elevation, says Deb Battreall, a trainer at Omni Health and Fitness.

"If you've had an acute injury or fall that results in a pop, pain or swelling, you might need to seek professional advice," she says. "Other symptoms include difficulty walking, loss of motion and tenderness along the joint line."


Research shows many injuries are preventable with proper training, Battreall says.

Here are some tips to help prevent injuries:

*Warm up and cool down. Start any workout routine or athletic event by warming up for at least 10 minutes, then start out slow. Wear proper shoes, and cool down afterward.

* Stop if you feel pain. "Exercise is meant to be uncomfortable, but not painful," Battreall says. "Stop if you feel pain."

* Monitor what you eat. Be mindful of the other part of healthy living.

"I always tell my clients this is the easy part - working out," Battreall says. "Nearly 80 percent is what you put in your mouth. It's a lifestyle change."

* Cross train. Vary moderate intensity, longer workouts with high intensity short workouts, Schutters says.

Work on strengthening all parts of the body as well so there is not an imbalance, Eksten says.

* Focus on a goal for that workout. Don't worry about working on both distance and speed at the same time, Pitchford says.

"I tell patients when they go back to running, there are two parameters on the street - distance and speed," he says. "Only change one parameter - increase your distance, but decrease speed, and the other way around."

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