From yoga mats and soccer fields to bike trails and basketball courts, women of all ages and competitive levels are more physically active than ever before. It’s a rapidly growing population reflected in top female athletes bringing home Olympic gold medals and even trying out for the National Football League (NFL).
To address the needs of both trained athletes and mothers wanting to stay fit, the Sports Medicine division at University of California, San Diego Health System recently founded the first program in the region dedicated to addressing the health and wellness needs of active women.
The Women’s Sports Medicine Program is run by female physicians who have trained with national leaders in the field and are passionate about providing specialized care to athletic patients.
As a competitive equestrian at a young age and avid runner, Catherine Robertson, MD, orthopedic surgeon with UC San Diego Health, understands first-hand the focus required by her patients for training and competition.
“It was important for me to be involved in the development of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program because I am passionate about staying active. It is a critical part of my life, and I appreciate that it is for many other women as well,” said Robertson, assistant clinical professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “I have spent a significant amount of time with female athletes and have dealt with a number of sports-related injuries myself, so I understand the physical challenges active patients face, and if injured, how to help them get back to sports and activity most effectively.”
Certain injuries are common in a given sport based on the physical demands and movement patterns, regardless of gender, but women are more prone to certain types of injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, stress fractures and shoulder instability.
“Women tend to get more stress fractures because of relatively low bone density, which can sometimes be related to nutritional issues. Adequate energy intake to meet the demands of training and recovery, including protein and calcium consumption, can affect bone strength and healing,” said Robertson. “Also, as a woman ages, and especially around menopause, there are changes in the joint that can result in pain, issues with flexibility and low energy levels.”
Treatment options vary depending on the type of injury. The Women’s Sports Medicine Program is focused on individualized patient care – an approach that has become a growing trend in the sports medicine field.
“I appreciate that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work and that sometimes women face specific physical challenges. Every patient is unique in their history of sports participation, personal goals, body structure, biomechanics, physiology and health. In some cases, a customized diet and exercise program is enough to help the patient. In other cases, a more aggressive approach to diagnosis such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or treatment such as surgery is required,” said Robertson. “This approach may take more time initially but tends to produce better long-term results.”
Another focus of the program is collaborating with a multidisciplinary team of specialists and physical therapists to address the patient’s needs.
“Some patients may need a specific physical therapist to address hip issues for example, so we want to connect them with the most beneficial resources that will provide the highest level of care,” said Robertson.
The program is also dedicated to injury prevention and understanding how training, nutrition and equipment factors contribute to a safe and powerful sports performance.
“Following basic injury prevention tips can make a big difference in an athlete’s performance level and overall general health,” said Robertson.
Robertson offers the following injury prevention tips to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle:
Stay moving - active people tend to be stronger, healthier and happier.
Choose an exercise program best suited for your body.
Mix up your exercise activity – don’t spend every day running or lifting weights at the gym.
Stretch before and after each work out.
Dedicate days to rest.
“Though our daily goal for the program is keeping women healthy and treating injuries successfully, our larger goal is to promote women’s fitness and sports. Athletics is not a boy’s club anymore, and we pride ourselves on being part of this change,” said Robertson.
For more information about the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at UC San Diego Health, please visit: http://sportsmedicine.ucsd.edu/women-sports-medicine/Pages/default.aspx
Women's Sports Medicine