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Young Female Athletes At Risk For Stress Fractures

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

While some young girls spend way too much time sitting and not getting any exercise, others are getting too much and ending up with stress fractures causing small cracks in their bones.

What’s worrisome about stress fractures in adolescents is that puberty is when young women’s bones are thickening and gaining strength. Strong bones can help prevent osteoporosis later in life. Stress fractures, if not managed well, can lead to full fractures- damaging bones and weakening them.

In a recent study at Children’s Hospital Boston, almost 7,000 girls between the ages of 9 and 15 were surveyed over a period of 7 years. Every 1 or 2 years, the girls recorded how many hours a week they spent participating in a variety of sports and other physical activities.

At the end of the 7 years, the girls’ mothers were asked if their daughters had been diagnosed with a stress fracture during the study period. All of the girl’s mothers were registered nurses who were also participating in another long-term health study. 267 girls, or about 4 percent, were diagnosed with a stress fracture. The girls who were twice as likely to have stress fractures participated in “high-impact” sports like basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics and running. Girls who played sports considered “medium-impact,” such as baseball or hockey did not have an extra risk of stress fracture, nor did those who participated in non-impact activities such as biking and swimming.

The study was published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Alison Field, the article’s lead author who studies adolescent medicine, said that the findings were especially troubling given that more young athletes are specializing in one sport and putting strain on the same muscles and bones every season.

The authors did not find that having low body weight or symptoms of an eating disorder were linked to stress fracture risk, which was a surprise, Field said. But they did find that girls who got their period at a later age were more likely to suffer a stress fracture, and first periods are often delayed in girls who are very thin.

For girls especially, variety is an important part of athletic training, Field said. Runners, for example, can spend some of their time cross-training on a bike or elliptical trainer to use different muscles and avoid damage to their bones, she said.

While some weight-bearing activity is good for bones, the message for young athletes with high-intensity training plans and their coaches is: “can we bring that down a level?” Field told Reuters Health.

In an article on WomensSportsFoundation.org, experts discuss the many ways in which young female athletes put their health at risk when they over-do-it in sports programs.  Most of the injuries are related to competitive sports and not giving the body enough time to heal once an injury occurs.

Injury prevention, and education by coaches and trainers can help young women enjoy their accomplishments in a healthy and safe way.

Exercise, healthy competitiveness, and strength are some of the wonderful benefits sports have to offer. Young girls and boys should be applauded for getting up, out and moving. Just make sure your child uses reasonable caution and injury prevention techniques when they take on any sport.

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