It’s been almost 50 years since tennis icon Billie Jean King took down Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes.” Although King’s victory didn’t end arguments about the quality differences between men’s and women’s sports, it was a watershed moment that proved women can rival men in sports despite the physiological differences they face.
One of the biggest differences in sports, however, is the frequency and type of injuries men and women suffer. Although cheerleading is the most injury-prone sport among females and accounts for 66% of all catastrophic injuries in either high school or college female athletes, the individual sport is less of a factor than the anatomical differences that make more likely to incur certain injuries.
Have you or a family member recently suffered a sports injury? If so, come see our team at Steven E. Nolan, MD. Dr. Nolan is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of experience and has received numerous top-surgeon awards during his career. Here, he explains why women experience more sports injuries and the most common sports injuries in females.
Physical differences between men and women
The rigor and intensity of sports doesn’t change from women to men, but women do face some physiological obstacles that men don’t. Simply put, certain movements are more likely to negatively impact a female athlete. Differences that put women at greater risk include:
- More estrogen levels
- Less muscle mass
- More body fat
- More flexibility joints
- Weaker muscles
- Wider pelvis and different alignment of the knee and ankle
- Less space for the ACL
- Inadequate calcium and vitamin D
If there is any solace to be found in this gender gap, it's that the medical community has recognized it and started to train and treat women differently to reduce injury risk.
Female athletes are about 2-8 times more likely to tear their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a ligament that supports stability in the knee. As mentioned above, part of this is due to knee anatomy and the space around the ACL. Additionally, women’s wider pelvises force the knee joint more inward, increasing the likelihood of injury.
Adding to the risk, women and men change direction in different ways. Men tend to plant and cut with both feet while women are more likely to pivot on one leg, putting more stress on the ligaments in the knee.
Stress fractures, which result from repetitive force and overuse, are very common among women, especially in the foot and lower leg. Women who run or play sports that require a lot of running, like soccer and lacrosse, are more prone to these injuries. Older females who are near or at menopause may experience more stress fractures as their level of estrogen, a bone-protecting hormone, begins to rapidly drop.
Sprained ankles are one of the most common sports injuries in both men and women, making up about 30% of injuries seen by sports medicine clinics. Women overall are 25% more likely to sustain an ankle injury. An acute injury, sprained ankles occur suddenly, often after a quick change or direction or landing from a jump. Basketball players, who often make quick movements, are most likely to suffer a sprained ankle.
Sports injuries can be painful, but Dr. Steven E. Nolan is an expert at treating orthopedic injuries and can have you on the path to recovery in no time. To learn more about common sports injuries, request an appointment online or over the phone with Steven E. Nolan, MD, today.