Do women have higher injury rates in sports?

Do women have higher injury rates in sports?

While there is a belief that women may be more susceptible to injuries, is this really the case? Do women actually get injured at higher rates? Like many aspects of sports research, it depends. 

Rates of injury based on gender vary between sports. Men tend to experience higher rates of muscle injuries, but women experience:

  • Higher likelihood of ACL injuries in high school and college sports. Women are less likely than men to return to the same level of sports after an ACL injury.
  • More frequent and severe concussions, with generally longer lasting symptoms, meaning longer recovery times to return to sports.
  • Higher rates of bone stress injuries.

While it may seem like women’s bodies are prone to more injuries, this is not true. There are some biological explanations for high rates of injuries on women, such as different hip mechanics, causing instability in landing resulting in ACL injuries. Women have fewer neck muscles to protect against concussion. Hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can cause ligaments to be more prone to injury, however, these biological differences alone are not enough to account for the injury gap. Societal factors likely play a large role in the injuries women sustain in sports. Potential causes for increased female sports injuries:

  • Women are less encouraged to weight train at lower levels in sports. Weight training reduces the risk of injury. Many popular sports, such as gymnastics and ballet, promote thinness in athletes, rather than muscularity. 
  • Women receive less support from trainers and support staff. This can be due to funding differences.
  • In some sports, men may begin the sport at an earlier age. This means they become familiar with the movement patterns earlier in life, reducing injury risk.
  • Women tend to see doctors later after getting a concussion due to a disparity in resources.
  • Bone stress injuries are more common in female athletes due to underfueling and RED-S. Societal pressure on women to be thin can lead to behaviors that cause weak bones.

The funding and support gap between men’s and women’s sports likely has a much larger impact on injury rates than biological differences. Once women’s sports receive adequate resources, injury rates are likely to go down. This has been shown in programs where women receive adequate strength training and injury prevention protocol; their risk of an ACL injury decreased significantly. Preventing and treating injuries is vital to encouraging athletes to excel at the sports they love. 

The narrative that women are more prone to injury is harmful, and dates back to outdated beliefs that have historically prevented women from participating in sports. Supporting injured female athletes is just one of the many hurdles that will help increase female participation in sports.

by: Carlyn Johnson

Balachandar, V., Marciniak, J. L., Wall, O., & Balachandar, C. (2017). Effects of the menstrual cycle on lower-limb biomechanics, neuromuscular control, and anterior cruciate ligament injury risk: a systematic review. Muscles, ligaments and tendons journal, 7(1), 136–146.
Chidi-Ogbolu, N., & Baar, K. (2019). Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 1834.
Comeau, A. K., Parent, E. C., & Kennedy, M. D. (2023). Do Female University Varsity Athletes Have a Greater Risk of Injury Within a Competitive Varsity Season?. International journal of exercise science, 16(6), 129–147.
Lin, C. Y., Casey, E., Herman, D. C., Katz, N., & Tenforde, A. S. (2018). Sex Differences in Common Sports Injuries. PM & R : the journal of injury, function, and rehabilitation, 10(10), 1073–1082. 
Yu, Christine. (2023). Up to Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes. Riverhead Books.

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