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  • Female Athlete Program Female Athlete Program

Female Athlete Program

Our mission

US News - Stanford Children's HealthThe Stanford Children’s Health Female Athlete Program is a multidisciplinary team that provides health care for female athletes. It includes sports medicine physicians, adolescent medicine physicians, physical therapists and athletic trainers. We understand the unique requirements of female athletes in sports and strive to provide the highest quality care. Our goal is to prevent injuries through education and early diagnosis while treating the complete female athlete and her specific needs.

The female athlete triad

The female athlete triad is a syndrome of three medical conditions: disordered eating, amenorrhea (lack of menstrual periods) and low bone density. This syndrome is often overlooked in physically active young women and can lead to increased risk of fractures and sports injuries. Young female athletes exhibiting any signs of the triad should be evaluated for treatment by our sports medicine team.

Bone health

Athletes usually have higher bone mineral density than less active individuals. However, overtraining and excessive exercise can put bone health at risk. Athletes who do repetitive, high-impact motions, such as distance runners, are at risk for overtraining. Bone health is also affected by calcium and vitamin D intake, nutritional balance and estrogen. Compromised bone health in young female athletes may lead to small microfractures commonly referred to as stress fractures, which most often occur in the tibia. Along with a risk of stress fractures and bone loss, athletes with amenorrhea and disordered eating patterns are at risk of osteoporosis. Healthy eating habits and appropriate training regimens allow the female athlete to grow in the fittest way possible while also putting her in the best position to achieve her goals in future endeavors.

Nutrition and the female athlete

Eating a proper amount of healthy calories each day optimizes female athletes’ ability to perform and prevent injuries. Female athletes also must take in a certain amount of protein, vegetables, carbohydrates, calcium and vitamin D to improve muscle function and decrease risk of stress fractures, infection and inflammation. Our physicians and nutritionists can help craft an individualized dietary plan to optimize the female athlete’s performance.

Eating disorders

There are two primary eating disorders:

A refusal to maintain a minimally normal body weight is known as anorexia nervosa. Bulimia nervosa is characterized as recurring incidents of binge eating, followed by inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting and misuse of medications. Disordered eating in athletes has serious consequences. It can contribute to nutritional deficits and directly affect the body’s ability to build bone, maintain muscle mass and recover from injury. When the body is low on fuel, it can lead to an inability to concentrate and a loss of overall strength.

Amenorrhea

Amenorrhea can be caused by a variety of things. Most often, female athletes develop functional hypothalamic amenorrhea due to a combination of exercise and stress. Amenorrhea leads to an estrogen deficiency, which increases the risk of stress fractures, especially in active females.

Concussions and sport safety

Women are more than twice as likely to get a head injury than men playing the same sport. Our team of sports medicine doctors and athletic trainers correctly diagnose and manage concussions to allow a timely and safe return to sports. We also offer pre- and post- concussion neurocognitive testing.