Teenage girls and sport
Keeping our teenage girls in sport and loving it is essential for their lifetime health and well-being. Did you know that only 2% of Australian teenagers get enough physical activity (www.aihw.com.au)?! The drop out rate of organised sport for girls is huge from the age of 13 (for boys it’s 15)?! They haven’t reached their peak bone density yet (occurs on average between 13 and 17), they haven’t had a chance to get used to their changing body shape or see just how strong, fast, powerful, skilful they can be.
Without regular sport or organised exercise we become sedentary. We just don’t move enough to challenge our body. Without challenge we can not grow, build, develop, learn. We can not reach our full potential or maintain it. Kids at the age of 13 have certainly not reached their full potential. As we become sedentary or entire body adapts. Our heart and lungs aren’t as efficient, we put down more fat where muscle once was, our bones are stimulated to become tough, our brain isn’t triggered by powerful endorphins to make us feel happy and content and we are more prone to mental health problems. The age of 13 is way too young to start a physical and mental decline.
As a community we believe we must be focused on helping adolescent girls enjoy and remain in organised sport and exercise. We need our girls to collectively be fitter and stronger through adolescence an have them enjoying their sport throughout their schooling and into early adulthood. By this time they will (hopefully) have developed a life long love of exercise which will hold their general health in good stead for ever.
Whats happening to our girls?
There is so much change occurring during adolescence, in all body systems and within their environment. As a young girls body shape starts to change it can suddenly feel quite strange to her in how it moves. As adults we can all understand this, but for a young girl it can be challenging. How a young female body performs can be different too. Where just a year or so ago she was beating the boys in the running races she is now at the back of the pack. This is just a response to hormones and changing body shape which initially she may not be able to develop the same power out of. Given time, support and training, she will.
The changes in hormones at puberty produce significant changes, which can have both direct and indirect effects on injury patterns and pain presentations. We see huge changes in neuromuscular control (coordination), the brain isn’t listening so well to the joints and muscles (not just their parents 😆).
There are big changes in height, and leg length, and often more ligament laxity in our girls. How often has a parent called “my child looks like a baby giraffe when they run”? That’s all those changes, right there! It is no wonder injury rates are high. For more on the amazing brain changes in adolescence, check out The Beautiful Brain from National Geographic.
“you can’t be who you can’t see” Ally Wilson 2022 Commonwealth Games
For girls who live remotely or come from different cultural backgrounds it can be really hard to find a sporting outlet that suits them. Adelaide basketball’s (and Norwood Flame) Ally Wilson recently said (about being one of nine Indigenous athletes in the Australian Commonwealth games team) “you can’t be what you can’t see”. Serena Williams in her very recent retirement interview talked about how she hoped she had helped get more African American girls into tennis.
Promoting and supporting young female athletes from different cultures and backgrounds is a cornerstone to encouraging girls to play and stay in sports.
The Australian Women’s 3×3 Commonwealth Games (2022) team played Sri Lanka in the minor rounds of the Commonwealth games. They beat Sri Lanka comfortably who were clearly not as experienced at this higher level. However the female TV commentator so accurately said “if just one Sri Lankan girl watches this and is inspired to play basketball then they have done their job as national athletes”.
Sport gets harder as you hit the teen years. Most sports drop the modified children’s version, resulting in increased training and higher levels of competition. Sport starts to be about ‘winning’ rather than ‘participating’.
For many kids the ‘fun’ of sport stops as they hit this mature level of a sport. For those kids that were actually playing just for fun it can become all a bit too stressful. Whilst it important to offer higher levels and pathways for skill progression, it is equally important to offer ‘have a go’ sports. We need to have bigger ‘social’ competitions of a sport and really we only need a limited amount of higher level comps. We (Vital Core) truly believe that the duty of a junior sporting organisations should be to encourage as many kids as possible to come and play and have fun and be a part of a sporting community for their entire childhood.
Our teenage girls have huge pressures placed upon the including social changes and significant influences from peers and (in particular) social media. Academic pressures and big life decisions being made (and changed), and there is a shift away from family supports in preference to peers and mentors and idols. If we can make those mentors and females idols associated with sport and health active lifestyle then we are another step closer to keeping our girls physically active.
Adelaide Jess Stenson winning gold in the Commonwealth games marathon
The impact of injury on a young girl can be devastating. Whilst an adult can often see the bigger picture, a teenage girl may feel her life (as she knows it) is over. This will also impact how she experiences pain and how she responds to rehabilitation. Many injuries occur for the first time in adolescence and often it is the first real pain a girl has experienced. As adults we know that it is normal/ common to be in pain from an injury for some time, but with time and the right management we will get better. It isa really tough concept for a child to grasp if they haven’t seen anyone with an injury before. The management and experience with injury and pain during adolescence impacts our beliefs around injury, pain and recovery later in life, so a positive first experience with injury / pain and recovery is critical.
Common conditions in young female athletes
Patellofemoral joint pain (under or around the knee cap) is one of the most common issues of teenage girls. Some girls even give up sport because of it, and yet it can be quite straightforward to treat and manage. It commonly occurs in the 13-15 year old girl age group because that’s when their hips start to broaden. This changes the way the muscles of the hip and thigh and lower leg work often causing a pulling on the knee cap. This sort of pain is worse with running and better with resting. As a result a lot of girls just stop running! With the right physio though they could get back out there and enjoying their sport quickly.
Ankle sprains are super common in all kids and are often the first injury to occur. Physio Thomas has written a wonderful blog on this very common condition and whatnots to happen to rehabilitate properly.
There are a number of Growth Plate injuries that are extremely common at the onset of puberty all of which can be extremely painful. Once again they are easy to manage once you know how. You can read more about these here.
ACL ruptures and shoulder dislocations are actually at their peak incidence and prevalence in teenage girls, and can have quite serious repercussions. Once again though a good physio assessment and management plan can prevent physio as well as ensure that if you do have surgery she is strong and capable of getting back out on the court/field with confidence.
The are a large number of other potential injuries. However the most common presentation to physics the piggly pain. The slightly sore knee or foot or back. Our girls are often a bit clumsy as a result, they can’t balance well on one leg, and they do very odd compensatory patterns when they try to squat or push something heavy. They land and take off in an awkward position for her knee and ankle.
What we do at Vital Core
Firstly we listen to our teenage patients and their parents/carers to find out what it is they feel they are missing out on and what they really would like to be able to do. Developing a great working relationship with a teenage patient is essential for long term success. The teenager needs to really trust their physio to be intrinsically motivated to do their exercises/ homework in order to get the most out of their physio sessions.
As always we take a detailed history of the problem but also of what a typical exercise week looks like for the teenager – what activities are they doing, how long are sessions, are any of them new? What about school PE and sport? Are there any days of the week that they don’t ‘exercise’? How’s school going this year? How are your friendship groups? Are you sleeping well? How much screen time do you have? All of these factors can impact a teenager and their pain experience and recovery.
The physio will then assess the problem area as well as screen for general movement coordination and control. After this the physio will likely give the teen a diagnosis and more importantly what is required to make it better. They will lay out a suggested plan of treatment. It will always include advice on modifying some of the sport, sometimes a conversation about priorities, and always some exercises to do to improve her coordination.
As a part of our young athlete development program, we run small group exercise sessions specifically for teenage girls. Depending on the age and ability of the individual girl these are either primarily using the Clinical Rehab (Pilates) equipment, or a combination with other strength equipment. Because it is specific to teenage girls it is a comfortable and fun environment for these young athletes to exercise. Teenfit runs for 8 weeks through each school term.
Let’s together help keep our teenage girls injury free and participating in organised sport for many more years than the average! You can book your teenage girl in for an assessment by calling 83310552 or booking online.