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The Female Athlete

Female participation in sports has exploded in the last 2 decades. How many of us have found ourselves watching women's soccer, basketball, skiing, and other sports that years ago would have been hard to find. The woman's Olympic figure skating is one of the most anticipated events in sports. Participation in recreational sports has seen a phenomenal growth as well. The health benefits are undeniable. Unfortunately, this increased rate of participation has caused a direct increase in athletic injuries. Many of these injuries are specific to the female gender, and some injuries are seen more frequently in women.

There are many theories to why women experience up to six times the number of anterior cruciate ligament tears of the knee as men. Muscular strength of the leg, hormonal influences, pelvic anatomy, and bone size in the knee have all been postulated. Most women who are active in sports are in their reproductive years. Issues of pregnancy, fertility, and gynecological concerns are routine now. Exercises that we once thought impossible for pregnant women have now been dwarfed by physical advancements seen in women sports today. Pregnant women run marathons, finish multisport events, and seem to push the limits yearly.

The quality and quantity of the exercise should be taken into account for pregnant women, as not all sports have the same physical demands. Maternal cardiovascular fitness promotes strength, may prevent maternal health conditions unique to the pregnant female, and allows the individual a strong feeling of well being and confidence during a difficult time.

Intense physical training in young adolescent females may cause potential harm. Delay in pubertal growth and maturation are issues that have been addressed in the medical literature. Cessation of the monthly cycles is well documented in female athletes during intense physical conditioning.

Women tend to have more ligamentous flexibility, and thus are prone to overuse injuries, instability in the joints, and muscular injury. Rehabilitation programs are now geared to meet these new challenges in the new female athlete, and all training programs should be monitored with concerns aimed at nutrition, conditioning, and realistic performance goals. The challenges seem to constantly evolve, as women participation in sports is just beginning. There may be the day when athletic challenges between the sexes are equivocal in some sports, and as these demands grow, each female athlete will require attention from a variety of specialties within the medical community.

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