Female Teen Athletes: At Risk for Injury?
Teen girls who are athletes face unique obstacles when it comes to their bodies and
how well they perform.
Teen girls have their teen growth spurt at an earlier age than boys, and reach their
adult height earlier. Teen girls have more body fat than teen boys because of higher
estrogen levels. Teen boys have more lean body mass because of higher androgen levels.
Teen girls, even after weight training, have less upper body strength than teen boys.
Estrogen appears to affect a female athlete's ligaments by making them more relaxed
and boosting the risk for injury. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee
seems particularly in danger of getting injured because of this. This is especially
true at certain times during a teen girl's menstrual cycle.
Physical differences in teen girls also affect the ACL and the knee. There is less
space in a teen girl's knee for the ACL. This puts more stress on the ligament, making
it easier to tear. Teen girls have wider hips than teen boys. This difference in width
puts more stress on the knees, particularly when landing from a jump. When a girl
lands, she has more flex in her ankle and more foot roll out.
The highest-risk sports for ACL injury include: basketball, soccer, cheerleading,
field hockey, singles tennis, lacrosse, and skiing. According to the American Academy
of Orthopaedic Surgeons, nearly 200,000 ACL injuries are estimated to happen each
In addition to knee injuries, teen girls may be more likely to have problems with
shoulder instability and ankle sprains because of their more relaxed ligaments.
Reducing ligament injuries
Here are several suggestions for teen athletes:
Strengthen leg muscles, particularly the hamstrings.
Learn how to land properly after jumping, with knees bent and hips flexed
Strengthen core muscles in the trunk, hips, pelvis, abdomen and back.
Warm up before beginning any activity, take rest breaks, and cool down and
stretch after play.
Teen girl athletes may also have breast pain and discomfort because of friction, lengthy
periods of motion and, depending on the sport, injury from a blow to the breast.
One of the best ways to prevent breast injury caused by motion and friction is to
wear a well-fitting sports bra. The sports bra should limit breast motion as much
as possible and be made of breathable material.
For teen girls who run or participate in other sports with repetitive running, the
nipples may become irritated. Cold wind can make it worse. A well-fitting sports bra
can reduce nipple injury. Petroleum jelly or bandages may also help.