While there’s no doubt female athletes are just as competitive and successful on the field as their male counterparts, when it comes to injuries, the necessary medical care required to properly heal the female athlete differs from what is required for male athletes.
Dr. Rathna Nuti with TMI Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Surgery says it’s important that female athletes get medical care and physical therapy from a sports medicine provider who takes a female-specific and individualized approach to their care. “Male and female athletes may share the same drive for performance, but they don’t share the same build,” Dr. Nuti says. “Men and women have different anatomical builds which can place women at a higher risk of injury, particularly in the adolescent years when so much training and conditioning takes place.”
One of the biggest differences between male and female athletes that can affect performance and places women at greater risk for injury is the structure of the pelvis. Women have a wider pelvis than men which can lead to “knock knees,” in female adolescents. “Adolescents grow fast, and their bones grow faster than their muscles and tendons which alters their alignment and mechanics,” Dr. Nuti says. “This places them at a higher risk for ACL-type of injuries that can keep them out of the game for an entire season. There is a bigger component to being benched than injury. Injuries can also affect athletes mentally, as some teens become discouraged about not being scouted, losing an athletic scholarship due to injury, or depression about not being able to compete in the sport they love. Therefore, it’s important to take great care in choosing a doctor who treats more than the injury itself.”
Female athletes should choose sports medicine physicians who look at a patient’s complete health—not just treatment for injuries. “It’s important to get a full health history in addition to information about their menstrual cycles, bone health, perception of their body image, and daily nutrition,” Dr. Nuti says. “There’s a perception about the way a female athlete ‘should’ look, especially in sports like gymnastics or dance. There is tremendous pressure placed on female athletes about weight and appearance. Vigorous training or over-training can take a toll on an athlete, both physically and psychologically, especially when driven by unhealthy body image-related attitudes. It is important that negative attitudes about body image are identified, discussed, and guided towards attitudes that are more conducive to improved wellbeing and performance.”
Whenever a female athlete visits Dr. Nuti, typically to discuss an injury or pain, she treats that specific issue but also takes a multi-factorial approaching by delving deeper into the patient’s caloric intake, their athletic goals, menstrual cycle patterns, and rest schedule. Information gleaned from these discussions can help Dr. Nuti not only prescribe the right treatment for the injury, but also offer advice on how to avoid future injuries and stay in optimal training condition–both mentally and physically. She offers the following advice for female athletes who want to stay injury-free and on the playing field:
- Seek care from an experienced sports medicine specialist. They are qualified to look at the complete health picture of each athlete and take an individual approach to patient care.
- Look for a sports medicine practice with an integrative approach, such as having sports medicine specialists, physical therapists, and sports medicine surgeons on staff who will collaborate on the prescribed care and treatment for patients.
- Focus on both mental health and physical health. Because rigorous training and competition can take a toll on athletes, be mindful about depression and anxiety. Be sure to report harmful eating patterns, negative feelings about body image, stress levels, and extreme or rapid weight loss or gain.
- Seek care from additional sports specialists as well, such as a sports nutritionist and sports psychologists. Involve coaches and athletic trainers in your care and rehabilitation from injuries. A more targeted team approach will yield better, healthier results.
- Don’t “sport-specialize.” If possible, be well-rounded in your athletic career by participating in other sports outside of your primary one in the off season. This will reduce over-use of the same muscles, bones, and joints. If you don’t participate in other sports, use your down time to rest to heal and rejuvenate the body.
- Be mindful of your nutritional intake. Ask your doctor about vitamin D and calcium supplements. Be sure your level of activity and caloric intake are balanced.
Dr. Rathna Nuti is a primary care sports medicine physician with TMI Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Surgery with locations in Arlington and Frisco. Board certified in family medicine and sports medicine, she is the assistant team physician for the Dallas Stars NHL Hockey Club and team physician for the Dallas Stars Ice Girls. She graduated from Austin College where she pursued a double major in biochemistry and psychology. She earned her M.D. from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center – School of Medicine. She completed her residency in family and community medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center where she intensified her interest in sports medicine. She completed her sports medicine fellowship at Drexel University where further training was established in treating musculoskeletal issues, providing sonographic diagnoses, performing various types of procedures such as steroid, hyaluronic acid, and PRP injections, and most importantly providing comprehensive care for various types of athletes. With a commitment toward education, Dr. Nuti has been involved in authoring journal articles, book chapters, and giving lectures and presentations. She is an active member of American Academy of Family Physicians and American Medical Society of Sports Medicine. She is dedicated to providing innovative, compassionate care for her patients to endure an active, healthy lifestyle. TMI Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Surgery provides a complete array of orthopedic care, imaging, and physical therapy and offers orthopedic surgery and sports medicine and rehabilitation under one roof in two convenient locations.