‘The Uneven Playing Field — Girls’ Sports Injuries’

I thought this story in the NYT magazine was v. interesting particularly for its obv. implications for gender equality. Apparently in the wake of Title IX, girl and young women athletes are getting hurt far more often than male athletes.

Michael Sokolove writes:

Girls and boys diverge in their physical abilities as they enter puberty and move through adolescence. Higher levels of testosterone allow boys to add muscle and, even without much effort on their part, get stronger. In turn, they become less flexible. Girls, as their estrogen levels increase, tend to add fat rather than muscle. They must train rigorously to get significantly stronger. The influence of estrogen makes girls’ ligaments lax, and they outperform boys in tests of overall body flexibility — a performance advantage in many sports, but also an injury risk when not accompanied by sufficient muscle to keep joints in stable, safe positions. Girls tend to run differently than boys — in a less-flexed, more-upright posture — which may put them at greater risk when changing directions and landing from jumps. Because of their wider hips, they are more likely to be knock-kneed — yet another suspected risk factor.

This divergence between the sexes occurs just at the moment when we increasingly ask more of young athletes, especially if they show talent: play longer, play harder, play faster, play for higher stakes. And we ask this of boys and girls equally — unmindful of physical differences.

The article says girl athletes are more likely than boys to suffer from chronic knee pain, shinsplints, stress fractures, ankle sprains, hip and back pain, concussions, and most significantly, A.C.L. ruptures. In sports that both sexes play, like soccer basketball and volleyball, it appears that girls suffer torn A.C.L.’s at rates a whopping five times than boys. It’s a devastating injury that never really fully heals.

5 comments to ‘The Uneven Playing Field — Girls’ Sports Injuries’

  • JRM

    This is slighty OT but what was your knee injury in 2002? I have a wicked messed up knee and am always interested in hearing about others issues/recovery/how they are doing now.

  • It was a torn medial meniscus. I think it was something where it tore a little bit years ago and gradually got worse and worse. That knee had been given me problems whenever I squatted on it or extended funny. Finally in 2002 I was giving my then-girlfriend a massage and straddling her and afterwards it just really hurt afterwards to bend the knee. So I had arthroscopic surgery where they removed like 30% of the cartilege. Not fun but I was back to running within a month and didn’t feel a thing during the marathon a week ago. The real problem has been squatting down real low, like you would tying your shoelaces or playing catcher. But the bikram yoga I think has helped with that.

  • Jrm

    Cool. I tore my meniscus too and know exactly wha you are talking about with the squatting

  • RMRose

    Here’s another blog commenting on the same NY Times story.

    http://www.fairerscience.org/fs-blogs/2008/05/hurt_girls.html

  • Ehhh, that comment didn’t do anything for me. I thought it was a pretty solidly-reported article; I didn’t see it as “fear-mongering.” There were more interesting comments on the NYT website, including plenty from women & girls who had been injured but said it was all worthwhile:

    I am 35 and have had 7 knee surgeries, 2 replacements (hit by field hockey ball) and am having hip & toe surgery this summer. Today, I am unable to run or bike, but have recently started to play ice hockey with limited pain. I live in pain, I sleep in pain. … I have no regrets, it was all worth it.

    Still if ACL problems among female athletes are as widespread as the article says, it seems like there are many other sports where women could compete at a high level that don’t involve jumping and cutting – crew, cross-country, track & field, swimming, tennis, etc.

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