The Gender Gap in Sports Injuries

Sports injuries are an unfortunate but common occurrence in athletics, and while many may believe that male athletes are more prone to injuries, the truth is that women are actually at a higher risk for many of the most common sports-related injuries.

Why are women more prone to these injuries than men?

There is probably a combination of factors that contribute to the higher incidence of injuries among female athletes. And we have more theories than actual answers. The most common explanation is that it’s due to basic differences between the bodies of men and women. For example, the typical female athlete, as compared with her male counterpart, has:

  • Higher estrogen levels, along with less muscle mass and more body fat.
  • Greater flexibility (due to looser ligaments) and less powerful muscles.
  • A wider pelvis, which alters the alignment of the knee and ankle.
  • A narrower space within the knee for the ACL to travel through.
  • The greater likelihood of inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake.

It is also worth noting that women tend to move differently than men, and these movements can increase the risk of injury. For example, when landing from a jump, women tend to land more upright and with their knees closer together. Meanwhile, when female athletes suddenly change direction, they tend to do so on one foot, while men tend to “cut” from both feet.

What injuries are most common among female athletes?

  • Ankle sprain. This is the most common sports injury in both men and women, but it’s particularly common among women.
  • Shoulder troubles. Examples include rotator cuff problems (including tendon inflammation, or tendinitis) and instability.
  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. Female athletes are more likely to experience ACL injuries than male athletes. This may be due to differences in anatomy and hormones.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome. Patellofemoral syndrome is a condition that describes pain in the front of the knee and around the kneecap, known as the patella. Doctors may also call patellofemoral syndrome “jumper’s knee” or “runner’s knee.” This condition is also more common among female athletes than male athletes.
  • Stress fractures. These are especially common in the foot or lower leg (tibia) among women with the “female athlete triad,” a combination of inadequate calorie and nutrient intake, irregular menstrual periods, and bone loss. Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, contribute to this triad.
  • Plantar fasciitis. Abnormal alignment of the foot and flat feet may contribute to these small tears in the supporting tissues along the arch and heel.
  • Concussions: While concussions are more common among male athletes overall, studies have suggested that female athletes may be more susceptible to concussions.

To address the gender gap in sports injuries, it is important to raise awareness of the issue and encourage more research into the underlying factors. This includes studying the biomechanical and hormonal differences between men and women, as well as developing better training and injury prevention strategies that take these differences into account.

Keeping you in the game.

SRO’s sports medicine doctors are board-certified, fellowship-trained specialists and orthopedic surgeons. Our doctors practice a comprehensive approach to treating patients that includes state-of-the-art diagnostics, physical therapy, pain management, and when necessary, the latest surgical techniques. In addition, our non-operative and post-surgical treatment protocols focus on rehabilitation and performance enhancement as well as injury risk reduction following return-to-sport. Learn more …