Health Risks Common to Female Soccer Players
Female athletes may suffer from menstrual abnormalities and stress fractures due to poor nutrition coupled with intense training.
A study looked at the possible threat in the health and performance of female soccer players as a result of intense training and poor nutrition. The researchers identified two common health-related problems among the players. About one of five female soccer players reported irregular menstrual cycles. Those who had stress fractures were about 14 percent of the athletes.
Need for Studies Focusing on Women Playing Soccer
According to Dr. Heidi Prather from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, most of the sports that young women engage in, such as dance, gymnastics and running, are well-studied in terms of their impact on the bodies of women athletes. But soccer is one sport that has not been studied very well.
It’s quite odd that the experts have not studied soccer despite the fact that so many girls play soccer in the U.S.
This study had 220 elite women soccer players, with an average age of 16, gathered from the national soccer clubs in St. Louis, a university soccer team and one professional soccer team.
The Risk of Menstrual Dysfunction
The researchers found that about one in five players who already have their menstruating cycles have it irregularly. The described irregularities include having less than 28 days cycle or over 34 days cycle and skipping a period. There are 19 percent of players who are 15 to 17 year old, 18 percent who are college athletes and 20 percent who are professionals that experience this irregular menstrual cycle.
There is a risk involved when girls have menstrual dysfunction. Not regularly having your menstrual period can affect your health long-term because your body is failing to receive the right estrogen load.
With a lack of estrogen, your bone health is affected. In the long-run, you can have osteoporosis, which is characterized by bone-thinning.
The Risk of Stress Fracture
Aside from menstrual irregularity, the researchers found an alarming high rate of stress fractures among the soccer players.
Dr. Mininder Kocher from Children’s Hospital Boston’s Division of Sports Medicine said that having stress fracture means there are tiny cracks in your bone due to overuse. For soccer players, stress fracture often occurs on the ankle or foot.
Bones are alive. They are often injured when running and jumping, but they oftentimes heal without any problem. But when bone injuries occur faster than they are healed, it becomes a problem of overuse, which is now called stress fracture.
Because stress fractures are very small, it is not enough to use x-ray to detect them. It requires an MRI scan. To treat stress fracture, a person needs to take plenty of rest, eat a healthy diet and take calcium and vitamin D supplements. For some cases, surgery may be required.
Tips and Recommendation
The female athletes together with their coaches need to be reminded that long-term health should be a priority. It should not be compromised in exchange for achieving excellence in playing soccer.
Health experts refer to poor eating habits, osteoporosis and amenorrhea or the absence of menstrual periods as the “female athlete triad.” These three health concerns are major risks that female athletes face.
Healthy Eating is Essential
The female soccer players also had a test to assess their risk of eating disorders. It is good to know that most of them had normal range scores.
It is important for girls who have irregular menstruation periods to see their doctor. Those who have had stress fractures more than twice should see the doctor, too. The player’s bone quality should be checked making sure that there’s no osteoporosis.
The peak of a woman’s bone density happens at age 25. Teens and young women need to have regular menstruation periods and eat a healthy diet so that they can maintain the proper estrogen levels, which is necessary for building bone density and avoiding osteoporosis later on.
Exercise Can Help
Another study by Swedish researchers, which was participated by 4,000 female soccer players, showed that when young athletes get warmed up for 15 minutes before playing, they reduce their risk to injure their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) by 64 percent. The ACL is a ligament found inside the knee.
The study also recommends that exercises for improving knee control and also core stability be done two times each week.
Photo credits: By Caroline Culler (User:Wgreaves) – Own work, CC BY 3.0, $3