The most common women’s sports injuries you should know

Over the last 20 years, I’ve been really pleased to see so many women of every age getting increasingly active in sports. You all know I’m a fan of staying active because it adds so much to your quality of life and improves your health at any age.

With spring just around the corner and so many women, as well as men, getting ready to enjoy the beautiful weather and their favorite activities, this is a great time to take a look at the most common injuries women have to watch out for in sports.

Did you know that women have more shoulder injuries than men have and are more likely to have them happen again, as compared to other injuries?

It’s a combination of factors that make women more vulnerable. It involves the rotator cuff, which is weaker; looser supporting tissues; and the periscapular muscles. These are the muscles that help give strength to your shoulder when it’s moving, and they play an important role in stabilizing your shoulder when it’s not moving. They’re also important for their work in stabilizing and moving your shoulder blade, and they give it strength and staying power during activities.

Since upper body strength is also different for women, this all adds up to a potential problem during sports such as softball, swimming, or even during that popular game of volleyball on the beach.

At the first sign of a shoulder problem, get to the doctor and bring along your notes about how the injury came about. Remember your list of medications and any supplements you may be taking and whether you’ve had a problem with shoulder injuries before.

It’s very likely your medical professional will talk to you about resting your shoulder joints and, in some cases, it may need to be immobilized for a while to let it heal. While some problems may also require an analgesic, your doctor will determine if that will help your healing process.

It’s very possible your doctor will refer you to a physical therapist with the sports injury treatment expertise to help you with a strengthening program designed to help you avoid similar injuries in the future.

I’ve got another surprise for you. The news has been filled with the controversial issue of concussions. We hear so much about the problem for NFL players, but I bet you didn’t know that women athletes have more incidences of concussions than men do.

Recent studies, for example, have shown that high school and college women athletes are experiencing concussions at rate that is often much higher than their male counterparts. Female softball players are suffering from concussions at a rate that’s double that of males playing baseball and female hockey players have three times the incidence of concussions compared to male football players.

The statistics also show female high school soccer players have twice the rate of concussions versus males playing the same sport. This all adds up to a problem, and you need to be aware and prepared.

You’ve been reading my articles for a few years now, so you know that we’ve talked a great deal about how to protect yourself or that special sports player you care about from concussions. What I want you to really focus on is the need to take these injuries very seriously and make sure you are following your medical professional’s instructions to the letter.

Complete rest means complete rest, and paying attention for any changes in behavior or problems like vomiting is critical. Don’t rush the recovery plan. Head injuries can’t be taken likely. This is serious business, and your doctor is the one best suited to decide when normal activities and sports participation can resume.

Injuries to the knees and feet are a big problem for women sports enthusiasts. In fact, ACL injuries occur in females, versus males, at a rate of between two and eight times more, depending on the sport.

A high number of sports, including soccer, jogging, basketball, tennis and volleyball, involve a great deal of stress on the kneecaps and feet, so that’s part of the reason these injuries occur.

But, there are a number of reasons for the difference in rates of injury between males and females, and it comes down to anatomy. The issues include how the knees rotate relative to the hips, the knee angles that involve connecting tendons and the kneecaps’ outward rotation, the differences in muscle balance, along with some other dissimilarities that can add up to big problems.

One of the biggest injury problems involves the ACL, or the anterior cruciate ligament. We’ve talked about these on a number of occasions, but it’s being particularly aware of the problem that matters, because these injuries can be extremely painful and they can lead to chronic knee problems, cartilage injuries and even osteoarthritis.

At the first sign of injury, you know you need to get to a doctor for proper evaluation and treatment. But there are prevention programs that any woman who enjoys staying active can incorporate into her weekly routine.

Agility exercises appropriate for the activities you enjoy, as well as strengthening programs for your muscles, learning proper balance, turning and sudden movement techniques along with awareness can make a really big difference. Talk to your doctor about what works best for you.

You can also talk to a physical therapist with experience in sports training and preparation. Some physical therapists offer strengthening programs, like we do at Tidewater, that are designed based on a customized evaluation and consultation with your medical professional.

Many men enjoy jogging or speed-walking, and women are no different. Women, however, have a greater risk of stress fractures, particularly if they have a problem with bone density. These problems can trouble women of any age and are common in women who have menstrual issues and in women who suffer from osteoporosis.

For women of every age, stress fractures can result from repetitive impact or strain on the bones and are most typical in your shins and feet.

I can’t say it enough, and that’s why I am going to keep saying it every time we talk about an injury: Get a medical professional’s evaluation and a course of recovery that works for your particular problem. Don’t be surprised if your doctor’s course of treatment includes a restriction on weight-bearing activities for a number of months.

You also want to keep in mind that hairline fractures or stress fractures can be very unpleasant, so you want to help yourself with some simple preventative measures.

One important factor is your diet. You need the right balance of calcium; vitamins C, D, and K; as well as magnesium and iron. Properly fitted footwear that is designed to cushion your feet and absorb shock will help your shins and your feet. A big help is proper strengthening and training, along with proper warm-up exercises. Your doctor can advise you, and so can your sports-credentialed physical therapist.

Age and gender don’t matter when it comes to the importance of staying active and the critical role that activity plays in your quality of life. There’s a quote that comes to mind that really captures that importance for me:

Jim Rohn was a groundbreaker in the field of personal development. He once said, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” Take a walk every day; run, swim, play golf or tennis. Do something to keep active, and you will see the rewards every day for the rest of your life.

Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be reached by calling (302) 537-7260.