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Women and sports: look after these areas to avoid injuries
Health

Women and sports: look after these areas to avoid injuries

Looking after your body well varies according to your age, hormone levels and anatomy

Solange Vázquez

Madrid

Monday, 11 March 2024, 11:34

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Exercise, as with many other things in life, requires us to know our own body well and to pay attention to all the messages it sends us for a very simple reason: we will perform better and, above all, we will avoid injury. That is why it is important that, when we do physical activity, we acknowledge that there are anatomical and hormonal differences between men and women. “Competitive activity has increased significantly for women and many gender comparison studies are currently underway,” says Judith Sánchez Raya, a doctor with the Spanish Society of Rehabilitation and Physical Medicine (SERMEF). As she explains, women “are more flexible, we recover faster than men, but we also experience greater muscle fatigue... And this factor predisposes us to certain injuries,” she warns. So, what features should women be mindful of to avoid suffering injury at different stages of life?

Childhood

It is important that they develop “strong muscles and tendons,” explains Raúl Ortega, an expert in sports training and performance at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). He stresses that this is an investment in their future. Taking women footballers as an example: “Many who have reached a professional level lack a good physique to make them resistant to injury”. For example, there are studies that point to a higher incidence of tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in female than in male players. This is due to women having wider hips, giving a different positioning of the femur when playing. Would a better physical preparation in childhood prevent this? “Perhaps it would have somewhat changed the outcome,” says Ortega. As his university colleague, Professor Cristina Rotllan, an expert in women's physiology from the master's degree in Nutrition in Physical Activity and Sports, adds, “boys and girls who have practised different sports have better coordination and resistance than those who have always done the same sport”.

Teenagers

Once girls reach adolescence, Ortega points out that they must work on their strength. “Physical activity can be intensified so girls grow up strong, with very resistant, healthy and metabolically very active body tissue, enabling them to go on to withstand higher intensity workouts”. In addition, it is vital that they are aware of the phases of the menstrual cycle. “Regarding ligaments, it seems that they could be more predisposed to injury in the days just before ovulation: there are studies that show us that high levels of oestrogen generate more laxity [looseness] in such as knees, causing twists or sprains”.

Women of child-bearing age

To minimise injuries, adult women should focus on aerobic and strength-building exercises. Also, watch your dietary intake. For the latter Ortega recommends that women “focus on protein consumption: we need to rebuild and regenerate muscle tissue, and that means eating 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day. Even more protein (between 2.3 and 3.1) in periods of stress or when restricting calorie intake”.

At this juncture, he gives a warning: to help soft tissue recover and to lessen the risk of injury we do need calories. “All athletes are under pressure to eat less, but for women athletes there’s the additional pressure of aesthetics. I strongly recommend they lose their fear of carbohydrates and just eat”.

Menopausal women and beyond

At this stage in life oestrogen and progesterone disappear, placing women at risk of osteoporosis. “So, strength work becomes important to align and stretch the bones a little, so they toughen up and stay in shape”, is Ortega’s recommendation. Drink plenty of water, eat more proteins and do a little less exercise (but still done frequently in shorter bursts) will help us have a body that won’t fall apart so easily.

Weak areas and common injuries

“In most sports activities women are typically more prone to tendon and ligament injuries, especially in the lower extremities. In contrast, men suffer more fractures and muscle injuries due to direct trauma,” says rehab specialist Dr Judith Sánchez Raya. As she puts it, women tend to tear the cruciate ligaments in the knee more without actual contact, whereas men usually need a collision. “Next, in order of frequency, come ankle injuries, sprains, and muscle tears in the thigh, hamstrings, and calves,” adds the expert. She assures us that strengthening the core and taking care of the knees are the best means of avoiding injury for women as they age.

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