Posted May 4, 2016
An athlete’s worst fear is hearing they have to sit out their sport due to an injury. Whether it be a minor contusion, or a severely torn ACL, both men and women athletes are not immune to getting hurt.
But doctors and trainers — including one at UW-River Falls — disagree about who gets hurt more.
According to Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, faculty editor for Harvard Health Publication, a gender gap exists in the commonality of injuries.
“A female athlete can be just as fit (or more so) than her male counterpart, yet there appear to be different vulnerabilities among men and women for certain athletic injuries,” he wrote recently.
Shmerling attributes this to a variety of reasons, ranging from a women’s greater ability for flexibility to a greater likelihood of inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake. However, other studies contradict Shmerling’s claims.
One study, conducted in 2009 and published on the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website, found that men were more susceptible to injury. In a 12-month study, researchers observed 574 cross-country skiers, swimmers, long-distance runners and soccer players ranging from 15 to 35 years old.
The study concluded “more men reported at least one acute injury” and “more male than female runners reported at least one overuse injury.”
With around 350 athletes at UWRF, there are no shortage of injuries. But Head Athletic Trainer Andrew Baker isn’t sold on the idea that gender plays a role in the likelihood of injury.
“You’re going to find a lot of research that says either way,” Baker said. “From clinical experience, I don’t really see a difference.”
Baker explained that each sport comes with its own injuries, but that’s not necessarily indicative of a gender being more susceptible to an injury. What really plays into an athlete being more likely to get hurt is improper preparation.
“Our biggest ally in sports medicine is a great strength and conditioning program,” he said. “We don’t necessarily want soccer players doing the same workouts that football players are doing because they have different demands of the sport.”
However, Baker found one difference between the genders in terms of injuries: Female athletes tend to have longer recovery from concussions than male athletes.
“Their recoveries tend to be a little more complex and a little longer than male counterparts,” he said.
Regardless of their recovery time, a concussion itself isn’t more predominant in males than females because a sport’s demands typically determine the chance that one can suffer from a concussion based on the amount of contact that occurs.
With all the injuries that do occur, there have been recent breakthroughs to try to minimize the occurrence, and that’s through something called sports analytics. The premise of it is to monitor an athlete’s workload to determine their performance.
Athletes wear monitors during practice that watch their heart rates, work rate, how much energy they’re expending, and much more. The data is processed and then a decision is made based on their workload whether an athlete can practice that day. Although it is very beneficial, it comes at a price.
“Obviously it’s a very expensive thing and you need people and you need money to be able to monitor that data,” Baker said. “You also need coaches that will agree to that.”
Baker went on to say there is a possibility that one day UWRF could see this type of equipment implemented, especially because it is so beneficial.
“It helps athletes to be in their prime condition,” he said. “There will still be injuries, but it’s a step in the right direction.”