Note: Check all stretch and exercise suggestions with your GP or exercise professional before you perform them.
Roughly half of Australia’s 11.1 million people involved in sports are women, which means there are around 5 million women running, swimming, lifting weights, scoring goals, and occasionally injuring themselves on the path to competitive glory. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an elite athlete, accidents can happen. By being more aware of these common women’s sporting injuries, you can take the necessary precautions and measures to stay ‘in the game’.
So here are the most common sports injuries in women, and some practical ways to avoid and recover from them.
This is the most common injury across both sexes, but it’s more prevalent among female sportspersons.
There are three grades of sprained ankles:
Grade 1: Mild damage (stretching or slight tearing) of a ligament or ligaments, usually with minor swelling and tenderness. The ankle still feels stable and walking is possible.
Grade 2: Moderate damage (incomplete/partial tear) in a ligament or ligaments, accompanied by swelling, bruising and ongoing tenderness. The ankle feels less stable and walking causes pain.
Grade 3: Severe damage (complete tear) of a ligament or ligaments, accompanied by extensive swelling, bruising, pain and tenderness. The ankle feels unstable and is unable to support walking.
How to avoid ankle sprains
The ankle is vital to your balance and your movement. Depending on your sport or exercise of choice, your ankle might experience high-levels of impact or quick directional changes, which is why proprioceptive exercises are effective for ankle conditioning.
Basically, proprioception is our ‘sixth sense’ ability to understand our own body positioning and movement. Proprioception is the feedback loop between your body and brain, which enables you to adjust movement based on the external forces acting on a particular body part – for example if you’re walking across rocks and you step onto an wobbly one. Proprioception is what helps you to find your balance again.
If you’re coming back from an ankle sprain or looking to avoid one, get your physio to guide you through various proprioception exercises including balance activities. This will also likely be combined with an agility, flexibility and strengthening exercise regime for your ankle/s.
Rotator cuff injuries
The rotator cuff is the group of tendons and muscles that keep your arm bone comfortably slotted into the shoulder socket. It’s in use almost every time we use our arms. The rotator cuff can be damaged in sports through collisions, repetitive overhead motions, forceful or abrupt movements or falling onto an outstretched arm.
Common types of rotator cuff injuries are:
Rotator cuff tendinitis
This is the mildest form of rotator cuff injury. Tendinitis is the irritation and/or inflammation of the tendons in the rotator cuff, normally occurring in those playing sports that involve repeated overhead movements. The condition is normally painful, involving a loss in range of motion and strength in the arm. If the tendons continue to fray, this can progress to a rotator cuff tear.
Rotator cuff tears
These are tears that happen in the rotator cuff ligaments. They can occur over time naturally due to degeneration but can also be caused by trauma in sports or exercise. Tears can be partial thickness which normally presents with mild pain and a click in the shoulder or full thickness which presents with either severe pain or little to no pain if the tear was enough to also sever pain fibres in the region. Both tears will usually result in pain, weakness, and a loss of range motion when performing certain movements.
How to avoid rotator cuff injuries
There are some simple ways to help ward off the chances of a rotator cuff injury. Keeping your shoulders strong and flexible is one. There are a number of small muscles which make up the shoulder, and these need to be strengthened too. However, often we overlook them when training. It can be quite hard to target these through regular activity so maybe ask a physio or trainer to recommend a specific program for you.
Rotator cuff injuries can start small but get worse. If you are experiencing even mild shoulder pain, stop the activities that are painful, and head to a health professional before it progresses to a much more painful point.
Also, practicing good head, neck and shoulder posture and not sleeping on your side with your arms raised over your head can help reduce wear and tear on this important joint.
Your knee is a complicated piece of anatomy, made up of bones, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. It’s also one of the most likely joints to get injured. While there are a number of conditions the knee can experience, data shows that females sportspeople experience anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries 4-8 times more commonly than their male counterparts, so let’s focus there.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL injuries)
The ACL is found inside the knee joint, running diagonally down the middle of the knee. It provides rotational stability and prevents the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur. ACL injuries are commonly heard among runners, netballers, soccer players and other sports characterised by quick and powerful changes in direction. Most ACL injuries are complete or near complete tears, and partial tears are rare. As this can be a sports career-ending injury, this makes prevention all the more important.
How to avoid ACL injuries
Changing direction rapidly or landing from a jump incorrectly can tear the ACL. Making some small changes to playing technique might also help. Women also tend to move differently than men when landing from a jump. They also tend to ‘cut’ (change direction quickly) one foot while men typically cut from both feet. Training to change direction from both feet (rather than one), training to land from jumps in a safer position might prove effective in protecting the ACL.
Women tend to have less hamstring strength than men, which can affect control of the ACL. Hamstring building exercises can help increase the strength of the muscles and help you avoid injury. While training and stretching, it’s also really important to balance strength and flexibility on both sides of the body, as even a 15% difference can increase injury risk.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified Health Care Professional.