Despite persistent warnings from orthopedic surgeons and trainers, young athletes bent on specialization continue to suffer from preventable overuse injuries, like stress fractures and stress reactions, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. “More than 50 percent of what we see in sports medicine are overuse injuries, which are entirely preventable,” said Dr. Joel Brenner, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.
Since the advent of Title IX, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of girls playing high school sports has grown
more than tenfold, from 294,000 in 1971 to nearly 3.2 million last year.
But this welcome transformation has come at a serious cost for many female athletes. Title IX has inflicted significant collateral damage, including increased health risks for the players, a drop in the number of women coaches, and increased exposure to sexual abuse.
Like their male counterparts, girls have started to specialize early in their careers, working on just one sport year-round, often as a way to capture the attention of college coaches. With more scholarship money available than ever, girls feel pressured to specialize at a young age in the hopes of winning a spot on an elite team or gaining an edge in the increasingly competitive college admissions game. Of special concern for girls is damage to their anterior cruciate ligament, or A.C.L., the tiny muscle in the knee that connects the two halves of the leg. Female athletes are four or five times more likely than male athletes to have A.C.L tears, says Dr. William Levine, the director of sports medicine at Columbia University and the head physician for its varsity teams.
As Dr. Levine explains, once girls begin to menstruate, they become more “quadricep-dependent” than males, and that thick slug of muscle in the middle of the thigh then works against the A.C.L., sometimes causing tears. “Female athletes jump and land in a more erect posture, which puts increased stress on their A.C.L,” he says.