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Female Athletes More Apt to Be Injured

Researchers Say Basketball and Soccer Top List of Injuries

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 11, 2005 (Washington) -- Female varsity athletes are more apt to be injured than their male counterparts, even when they are playing the comparable sport, California researchers report.

Each year, 2 million high school athletes are injured in this country, costing $1.8 million dollars, report the researchers in a recent presentation at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.

As more females enter athletic programs, controversy has surrounded the issue of whether girls are more likely to be injured than boys, with previous studies reporting conflicting conclusions about varsity sports injuries.

But this latest study of 6,000 high school varsity athletes in California found that female athletes were more prone to injury.

"Female varsity athletes had greater injury rates and greater injury risk than male varsity athletes overall," Theodore J. Ganley, MD, orthopaedic director of sports medicine at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, tells WebMD.

The updated study looked at 3,003 female and 3,105 male athletes from 15 California high schools who participated in baseball or softball, basketball, soccer, track, or cross country during 2002 and 2003. Researchers collected data on age, gender, sport, skill level, body part, type of injury and days lost from the sport. Data from athletic trainers was submitted to detect significant differences between male and female athletes with respect to injury risk and injury rate both across all sports and within individual sports. The athletes were followed for a total 884,339 athletic hours in sports activities.

In all, 966 injuries occurred during one-year period ending in 2004, with females sustaining 515 and males 451 injuries.

In terms of more minor injuries with only one or two days lost from the sport, girls had more injuries than boys. Girls also had more serious injuries in basketball and soccer where seven plus days were lost from the sport. The only sport where boys exceeded the girls in serious injuries was in baseball.

Injury Locations

Girls were more apt to injure their lower extremities involving the ankle, knee, and tibia (a bone in the lower leg), while boys had a higher rate of injuries to the back of the ankle where the Achilles tendon attaches, says Ganley.

The researchers found that there were significantly different injury rates between the males and the females for each injury location.

In basketball and soccer, females had the greatest risk and rate of injury, primarily to the knee and ankle, Ganley notes. "There probably are mechanical structures at work here in women."

The researchers now hope to use the new gained knowledge to develop and implement programs that will reduce the injury rate in females. "We plan to use this data to correlate to emergency room and doctors visits as well as surgical interventions to create prevention programs for the high school athlete," says Ganley.

"This is an important study," adds Donald Shifrin, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. "This is a good study that explains the difference in injuries among athletes."

"Based on the injury rate, we know that the lower extremities of females are more prone to injury," he says. "Now we need to develop prevention programs."

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