How Gender Differences Affect Sports Injuries – Stanford Medicine Children’s Health Blog – Stanford Children’s Health | Team Cansler

Fifty years after the passage of Title IX, which mandated equal opportunity for men and women in sport, physicians and researchers are still learning about anatomical and physiological differences between boys and girls and how they can affect young athletes. Research also shows how warm-up exercises and diet can help address these disparities and reduce the risk of injury.

Arvind Balaji, MD, a Stanford pediatric sports medicine specialist who works with John Muir Health to treat patients at Pleasant Hill, walked us through some of the most common injuries that can be caused in part by anatomical and physiological differences between boys and girls. dr Balaji also discusses how gender differences can impact sports injuries in a HealthTalks podcast.

Listen to the HealthTalks podcast, How Gender Differences Affect Sports Injuries, with Arvind Balaji, MD.

knee and hip injuries

Female athletes may be at higher risk of knee and hip injuries, especially after puberty. That’s because girls develop wider pelvis and hips during puberty, creating a larger angle between the hips and knees. For example, when an athlete with a female anatomy spins quickly on a soccer field, this larger angle can put more pressure on her knees. Studies also show that the female anatomy includes a thinner anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that is more prone to tearing.

Doctors and researchers suspect that these differences contribute to higher rates of ACL injuries in athletes with female anatomy.

“Research tells us that girls tear cruciate ligaments more often than boys, even when playing the exact same sport with the exact same rules,” said Dr. Balaji. “We see a lot of ACL injuries in soccer players, and they’re not contact or collision injuries, they’re injuries that occur when a player tries to change direction quickly.”

These injuries can also require longer healing times and more rehabilitation for athletes with female anatomy.

“Athletes with female anatomy may need longer rehabilitation periods to improve hip and core strength,” said Dr. Balaji. “We treat and rehabilitate all athletes equally, but those with female physiology may take longer.”


Studies show that children and adolescents with female anatomy tend to get more concussions than those with male anatomy, even when playing the same sport with the same rules, added Dr. Added Balaji. Researchers are still investigating why this is so.

Athletes with female anatomy also take longer to recover from a concussion than athletes with male anatomy, but new research offers a way to address this injustice.

“New research shows that if we can get girls to a healthcare provider who can accurately diagnose their concussion and get them into an appropriate rehabilitation program as quickly as boys, they will recover in about the same time as boys,” dr Balaji said. “Female athletes can have other symptoms that aren’t as easy to spot. That’s what we can work on as a community: come together, identify every athlete’s symptoms and take them to someone who can help them.”

Warm up and prep training

Targeted warm-up and training to address these anatomical and physiological differences can also help prevent injury.

“For example, to reduce the risk of an ACL injury, there are many different knee injury prevention programs that parents can look up online,” said Dr. Balaji. “They can help condition and strengthen the hip, knee and core muscle groups and help young athletes better prepare for the sport they will be playing – pre-season and during the season. These types of exercise programs have been shown to have a profound impact on reducing injury risk, especially for girls.”

Diet also plays a role

Proper nutrition and hydration can help ensure that all young athletes have the energy they need to perform at their best and stay healthy. Before puberty, the nutritional needs of both sexes are roughly the same. Once puberty begins, these needs begin to diverge.

“Boys typically require a higher caloric intake, particularly protein, as they tend to build more muscle mass during puberty,” said Dr. Balaji. “If boys don’t eat enough calories, they may appear overtired and have trouble concentrating in class. This can happen to both sexes but may be more pronounced in boys.”

And for young female athletes, the risks of poor nutrition can be even higher.

“During puberty, everyone builds their bone density, and it peaks in our early 20s,” said Dr. Balaji. “Girls who don’t eat enough calories or the right nutrients can permanently lose some of their bone density, making their bones more prone to fracture. And if girls exercise too much and eat too little, they can also lose their periods, which can reduce estrogen and also lead to broken bones.”

Bone health problems and missed periods, along with eating disorders, make up the triad of female athletes. dr Balaji said athletes who participate in sports that emphasize a lean physique, such as cheering, gymnastics and track and field, may be at a higher risk of developing these conditions.

dr Balaji recommends that female athletes consume approximately 2,200 calories per day, while male athletes need closer to 2,800 calories, including a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, micronutrients, and vitamins such as calcium, vitamin D, and iron. He also recommends athletes drink 5 to 8 ounces of water for every 20 minutes of intense exercise. Many sports drinks contain too much sugar, so look for low-sugar electrolyte solutions.

Injuries become more widespread

Despite the differences, with the sport becoming so much more competitive and young athletes playing equally hard, Dr. Balaji that he sees the injury development for everyone more and more similarly.

“I’m finding that our children’s injuries are becoming more pervasive,” he said. “Depending on the specific sport they play and as competition accelerates, children’s injuries tend to be similar rather than different. Remember that children at different ages can develop different problems, so make sure you warm up, exercise properly, eat well, and rest a day or two a week.”

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