Teen Female Athletes: At Risk?

Teen girls who are athletes face unique obstacles when it comes to their bodies and how well they perform.

Teen girls have their teen growth spurt at an earlier age than boys, and reach their adult height earlier. Teen girls have more body fat than teen boys because of higher estrogen levels. Teen boys have more lean body mass because of higher androgen levels. Teen girls, even after weight training, have less upper body strength than teen boys.

Estrogen appears to affect a female athlete's ligaments by making them more relaxed and boosting the risk for injury. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee seems particularly in danger of getting injured because of this. This is especially true at certain times during a teen girl's menstrual cycle.

Physical differences in teen girls also affect the ACL and the knee. There is less space in a teen girl's knee for the ACL. This puts more stress on the ligament, making it easier to tear. Teen girls have wider hips than teen boys. This difference in width puts more stress on the knees, particularly when landing from a jump. When a girl lands, she has more flex in her ankle and more foot roll out.

The highest-risk sports for ACL injury include: basketball, soccer, cheerleading, field hockey, singles tennis, lacrosse, and skiing. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, nearly 200,000 ACL injuries are estimated to happen each year.

In addition to knee injuries, teen girls may be more likely to have problems with shoulder instability and ankle sprains because of their more relaxed ligaments.

Here are several suggestions for teen athletes:

  • Strengthen leg muscles, particularly the hamstrings.

  • Learn how to land properly after jumping, with knees bent and hips flexed forward.

  • Strengthen core muscles in the trunk, hips, pelvis, abdomen and back.

  • Warm up before beginning any activity, take rest breaks, and cool down and stretch after play.