The Female Athlete Triad is an important consideration when treating female athletes. So what exactly is it?
Proudly, Australia has a keen focus on improving gender equality in sport – from improving participation and inclusivity to pay equality. When working with or treating female athletes, however, the female athlete triad is something that often goes unconsidered and undiscussed.
Here at Allsports Physiotherapy, we understand how important it is to consider the anatomical and physiological differences when assessing, diagnosing and caring for women, including the female athlete triad. Today, our physio team has put together some key information about the female triad and what it may mean for you.
What Is The Female Athlete Triad?
The female athlete triad describes the relationship and effects on health of three key components that are associated with athletic training:
- Low energy availability (with or without an eating disorder)
- Menstrual irregularities (irregular or missed periods)
- Bone health (decreased bone mineral density)
If any one of these components is present in a woman involved in sport, the entire triad should be considered as there may be a serious impact on the person’s long-term health, well-being, injury risk and the ability to continue competing in sport.
How Does The Female Athlete Triad Develop?
A large range of factors can contribute to the triad, from performance pressures in sport to self-image and weight concerns influenced by society. A female athlete may have intense training schedules; be unsupported in her knowledge about nutrition, well-being or performance; have limited rest or downtime; partake in weight reduction to fit into a weight category for sports; be facing high expectations from parents or coaches; feel pressure about attaining the ‘right’ body type (ratio of lean muscle and fat) for her sport – and many more.
Signs, Symptoms And Impact On Health
A dangerous aspect of the female athlete triad is that many women put their signs and symptoms down to simply being tired, without their coaches, families or health professionals digging deeper to assess what could be happening below the surface. The symptoms are not sudden, rather develop gradually over time. Signs to look out for include:
- Absent or irregular periods
- Weight loss
- Stress fractures, osteopenia or osteoporosis
- More frequent illnesses
- Disordered or abnormal eating
- Altered sleeping patterns
- Reductions in bone mineral density
- Compulsive exercise
- Longer recovery times for injuries
- Feelings of anxiety or depression
- Obsession with performance or self-image
In the long-term, this can take a devastating toll on a female athlete’s career, reducing endurance and causing her to tire earlier, seeing a decrease in muscle strength, coordination and concentration, increasing vulnerability to injuries, illnesses and mental health problems, and generally seeing sports performance, health and well-being take a large hit.
Treatment: How Your Physio Can Help
Our physios work extensively with female athletes and always take a comprehensive and holistic approach to care. Key ways we help are by:
- Treating the musculoskeletal problems that have developed as a result of the female athlete triad, like stress fractures and tendinopathies
- Helping to prevent recurrence of problems as well as preventing the new development of problems for which the athlete may have a higher high risk
- Screening and educating around optimal training requirements, guidelines and self-care to prevent the effects of the triad
- Designing safe and progressive training and return-to-activity programs specifically for each athlete with respect to her sport and the demands of that sport on her body
- Working alongside other health professionals, coaches and family members to optimise outcomes
By understanding how much fuel and rest is required to maintain specific physical activity levels, having a healthy and effective training program, treating any pains or problems efficiently and before they worsen, and seeking help from the right people where other factors may be impacting well-being and performance, like nutrition or mental health, female athletes can recover from the effects of the triad – and our physios can help them do this. OPTIMIZE
Feel Better Equipped And More Confident About Your Training And Your Health
Our team of experienced physiotherapists are here to help you optimise your health so you can succeed in your athletic field. We work in a large variety of fields including sports physiotherapy and women’s health physiotherapy. Book in with your local Allsports Physiotherapy team online here or call the clinic near you here.