It’s not just your imagination—female athletes (and women in general) experience certain orthopedic issues more often than men. Not only that, but our injuries and recovery times also look a little different.
At Midwest Orthopedic Hospital, we know that prevention is the key to many orthopedic injuries. While some common orthopedic issues in women are related to hormones and even genetics, others are preventable with the right steps. Here’s how to keep your orthopedic health in top form, regardless of age or activity level.
Why Are Women’s Orthopedic Issues So Common?
So why are orthopedic issues common in women? For many reasons, female bodies have a higher risk of developing common orthopedic conditions like certain forms of arthritis and osteoporosis. Researchers have discovered some answers (like hormone levels, bone density, reproduction, and gender behaviors), but other reasons have yet to be determined.
The good news is that the more you learn about these orthopedic challenges, the better you can identify and advocate for your healthcare needs. So, what are some of the most common women’s orthopedic issues?
Osteoporosis, or brittle bones, isn’t solely a women’s issue, but it’s much more common in females. 80% of those affected by osteoporosis are women. Why? Well, for starters, women generally have lower bone density than men. While estrogen helps keep bones strong during childbearing years, women lose about 25% of their bone density during the first ten years of menopause, and it steadily declines as aging progresses. Bones become more brittle; thus, older women with osteoporosis are more likely to experience a fracture during a fall.
Like osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, or joint degradation is also more common in women. It can occur in almost any joint, but for women, it’s most common in the hands, knees, and hips. Again, hormones related to menstruation and menopause affect joint flexibility and laxity. Biomechanics also play a role—how women run and even stand can result in joint strain, inflammation, and eventually arthritis.
When it comes to sports injuries, women and men have different risks and tendencies. Men have more muscle mass, which helps them move and offers joint stability. Overall, men are more prone to injury than women, but female athletes experience more orthopedic injuries in side-by-side same-sport comparisons. ACL tears, stress fractures, and overuse injuries are the most common issues. Women are between 2 and 10 times more likely to experience ACL injuries than their male counterparts; they have at least twice the risk of stress fractures (likely due to lower muscle mass).
In a comparative study of college athletes, women were 25% more likely to experience a Grade I ankle sprain. The risk comes back to the issue of joint laxity. Women’s joints are laxer and, thus, less stable, making them more prone to these types of injuries. Footwear choices (i.e., high heels) also factor in the increased risk of ankle sprains. Other foot conditions like Morton’s neuromas are exacerbated by shoe choice and are more common in women.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or CTS, is characterized by pain, numbness, and weakness in the wrists and hands. Women are three times more prone to CTS. Researchers believe this is due to smaller wrist anatomy, hormonal factors, and pregnancy. Women can also experience CTS in conjunction with other illnesses like Lupus and breast cancer.
8 Tips to Prevent Common Women’s Orthopedic Issues
So now that we know about these common women’s orthopedic issues, what can we do to prevent them? Are we in an inevitable fight against our own anatomy, or are there steps we can take to improve our orthopedic health and avoid these orthopedic issues?
An ounce of prevention will go a long way toward a pound of cure for orthopedic issues. While sports injuries, accidents, and other issues may not be completely preventable, there are many steps you can take to stave off these women’s orthopedic concerns.
1. Choose Quality Shoes
You don’t have to give up on high heels altogether, but practical, comfortable shoes prevent many common women’s orthopedic issues, especially those affecting the knees, ankles, and feet. Look for shoes with structure and support. Shoes should fit well and be appropriate for the activity, whether taking the dog around the block, running, soccer, or walking in the snow.
2. Move More
You can prevent many orthopedic injuries by building muscle mass and increasing movement. Physical therapists typically encourage activity and exercise because it’s so crucial to orthopedic health. Not only does exercise help you maintain your weight, which can be a risk factor for several orthopedic conditions, but it will help you keep your muscles flexible and healthy.
3. Weight Bearing Exercise
One of the most crucial steps to prevent osteoporosis is to engage in weight-bearing exercises that work against gravity. Strength training and weight-bearing aerobic exercises help improve your bone strength, muscle tone, balance, and coordination. These factors go far toward increasing bone health as you age and help you avoid these common women’s orthopedic injuries.
4. Diet & Nutrition
A healthy diet is critical to orthopedic health as well. It’s essential that you get a well-rounded supply of nutrients, especially calcium and vitamin D. Good sources of these crucial nutrients include dairy products like milk and yogurt, kale, tofu, and soft-boned fish like sardines and salmon. Fortified cereals, juices, and other foods can ensure you get your daily requirements.
5. Ditch the Cigarettes
There’s no way around it—smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs, it’s also bad for your orthopedic health. Smoking is a risk factor for many women’s orthopedic issues discussed above. Women who smoke tend to also be at risk for conditions related to orthopedic problems such as cancers, lower body weight and muscle tone, earlier menopause, less physical activity, and poor diets. If you haven’t quit smoking yet, now is the time!
6. Drink Only in Moderation
Do you over-imbibe? Heavy alcohol consumption interferes with the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D. In women, heavy alcohol consumption can also increase the risk for issues like cancer and digestive problems, which can interfere with orthopedic health. Alcohol can affect calcium levels and cause hormone fluctuations (in both men and women). It’s important to only enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation, where they can actually be positive for health.
7. Reduce Stress
Researchers are still exploring the corollary relationship between psychological stress and bone health, but they have reasons to believe that the two are intertwined. Stress can interfere with cortisol and hormone levels. It plays a role in our nutrition, energy, focus, and ability to rest and recover from activity. Stress increases inflammation in the body, which may also play a role in orthopedic health. Find ways to reduce your stress through meditation, rest, and self-care to stay focused on preventing orthopedic injury.
8. Improve Sleep
Finally, sleep is crucial for wellness in many ways. When we sleep, our body repairs itself and recovers from activities. Exhaustion can make us more prone to accidents and injuries on the playing field and in everyday life. What’s more, recent studies have shown that women who sleep less than 5 hours per night had a significantly higher risk of osteoporosis and lower bone mineral density. Stay up on sleep to stay healthy!
Bone and joint health are crucial for everyone, and our experts at Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital are here to help you play and move without pain or discomfort. If you have any concerns about your orthopedic health, please reach out today!