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Boston Children’s Hospital creates program tailored to female athletes

The Boston Children’s Hospital announced the creation of a Female Athlete Program on April 3 that will combine sports medicine to help female athletes stay healthy to compete.

“We started developing this program about a year ago to give a holistic approach for female athletes since there is a female-specific treatment for injury prevention that is different from males,” said Kathryn Ackerman, co-director for the Female Athlete Program and division of sports medicine at BCH.

Martha Murray, co-director of the program and division of sports medicine at BCH, said understanding the differences between female and male athlete treatment is crucial in to keeping all athletes healthy and able to compete through proper procedures.

“During adolescence, women’s bodies mature differently than men’s,” Murray said in a press release last Wednesday. “While most boys gain muscle mass relatively easily during puberty, it’s not automatic for young women. However, women athletes can work to improve their strength and agility and subsequently reduce their risk of injury.”

Ackerman said the program would be led by several sports medicine physicians that will offer specialized treatment and research for female athletes to find out if they are getting the treatment they need to compete.

“When they come to a clinic, they [the physicians] try to focus on prevention,” she said. “They are already trained to do these things and we are excited for the program to be underway.”

This is one of the only programs in the country of its kind that uses sports medicine specialties to help female athletes stay healthy when competing, according to the release.

“A lot of places in the country have this program, but we adjusted it to deal with multiple issues and problems that females deal with when it comes to sport injuries,” she said. “Hopefully it [the program] will decrease their injuries and they learn to take care of themselves and compete in a healthier way.”

The number of girls competing in high school sports increased from about 295,000 to 3.2 million in the last 40 years, with the number of women playing collegiate sports also increasing, according to the release.

Kathryn Webster, professor of physical therapy and athletic training at Boston University, said there is a need for programs like the Female Athlete Program around the country.

“As a healthcare provider, I’ve been involved in a couple other programs that do provide this kind of service for females just because it is a unique type of situation for female athletes, as far as their susceptibility to injury is a little different than males,” she said.

Webster said there are many differences in male and female physical builds that require differing treatments.

“There tend to be some differences in muscle control, particularly in the lower extremity as far as the hamstring-to-quadricep ratio in the leg, and the hamstrings tend to be a little bit weaker in females,” she said. “Women have wider hips because we’re child bearing, so the alignment of the hip to the knee can sometimes be more troublesome for females than it is for men. The program could target some of those muscles.”

With the competiveness of high school athletes, Webster said many high school athletes are looking for an advantage to stay in peak condition.

“If they [high school athletes] watch their friends become injured or get sidelined for knee injury, they’re trying to figure out how to avoid that particularly injury, so this [program] is obviously helpful to prevent injury and to keep them strong in the way they,” she said. “It sounds like it would be a good program to invest in.”



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