Why are girl athletes getting hurt?
It's hard to believe that more than two decades have
passed since the enactment of Title IX, a law prohibiting
sex discrimination in school athletics. Since then,
girls have been closing the gap with boys and celebrating
their achievements in competitive sports.
Just as girls are enjoying increased opportunities -
like athletic scholarships - they are also suffering a
staggering rate of injuries. In sports that both girls
and boys play, girls are much likelier than their male
counterparts to sustain serious knee injuries.
Consider Erin Bigley, a former Moorestown High
School lacrosse and soccer stand-out, who contributed
to that statistic … twice.
In high school, Bigley tore her anterior cruciate ligament
(ACL), which is one of the four major ligaments
of the knee. A painful injury, the ACL is torn during a
sudden torsion, hyperextension, or dislocation of the
joint. After reconstructive surgery, and months of
physical therapy, Bigley was ready to play again.
"I wanted to get back on the field so badly," she
explains. "I couldn't see myself sitting on the sidelines."
Soon after she returned to play, she found herself
out of the game, this time, with a tear in her
Although the exact reasons for the differences in
injury rates between the sexes aren't confirmed,
orthopaedic experts identify unique physiological
characteristics among girls that cause more stress on
the knee. "Hip width is one issue for girls, causing the
thighbone to slant at an angle toward the knee and
rotate the joint inward," explains Virtua orthopaedic
surgeon Robert Falconiero, DO.
Dr. Falconiero, who performed both of Bigley's
surgeries, also suggests theories such as differences in hormones and muscle strength. Various prevention
techniques are recommended, but they're not always
enough. As a result, Dr. Falconiero sees female athletes
of all ages, most commonly with acute trauma injuries
like torn ACLs or other knee injuries like torn menisci.
Strength and balance for protection
Dr. Falconiero says one of the best chances for prevention
is to stay strong. "Supervised strength
training sessions can build the muscles that support
the joints," he says, adding that balanced strength
between different muscle groups is also important.
"Muscle imbalance will put a strain on your joints."
Balanced strength comes from more than
quads and hamstrings according to Dr. Falconiero:
"The importance of trunk or core strength surprises
some people. Control in the entire abdominal region
helps with power and balance to help the extremities
Virtua physical therapist Jennifer Sewell says that
strength and conditioning also helps female athletes to
move properly. "Girls tend not to engage some of their
muscles as fully as boys in athletic maneuvers like
jumping," she says. Athletes can be trained through
repetition to use their muscles more effectively for
secure landings or turns."
Listening to your body
The most basic advice Dr. Falconiero offers is to
ensure adequate rest, but this is often overlooked
in today's competitive
pressure to excel
drives athletes to
over-train and ignore
need to listen to their
bodies, and their bodies
need rest." Bigley is listening.
Talented enough to play
Division I college lacrosse as a freshman, her most
recent injury led her to choose a less intense club
program for her second year. "Ultimately, as hard as
it was to give up, I decided my long-term health was