Current Topics in Women's Sports Medicine

Evaluation and Treatment of the Female Athlete

Miho J. Tanaka, MD


Curr Orthop Pract. 2019;30(1):11-15. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The passing of Title IX in 1972 has led to a rapid increase in the number of female athletes, and with this, the field of women's sports medicine has continued to grow. As the number and type of female athletes continue to increase, our role as sports medicine surgeons is to meet the needs of this rapidly changing field by improving our knowledge of the injuries, treatments, and outcomes that are specific to this population. Our understanding of injury prevention and long-term outcomes after anterior cruciate ligament injuries is still evolving, yet this is a clear area for future study in female athletes. The role of gender in concussions and its relationship to musculoskeletal injuries continues to be explored. The unique element of pregnancy in athletes, which is gaining increasing attention, leads to a greater need for multidisciplinary care. Because of this, close collaboration with specialists who can augment our knowledge of the treatment of sports medicine conditions and maintaining awareness of the rapidly changing field of women's sports medicine will allow us to continually improve care for female athletes.


The passing of Title IX in 1972 led to a rapid increase in the number of female athletes, and with this, the field of women's sports medicine has continued to evolve. The number of girls playing high school sports has increased from 1.3 million in the 1973–74 school year to 3.4 million in the 2017–18 school year.[1] During this time, high school sports participation in girls demonstrated a growth rate 2.3 times greater than in boys, which grew from 4.1 to 4.6 million in the same period.

Although it is important to understand this growth in terms of quantity and number of female athletes participating, it is equally important to understand the qualitative changes that accompany these trends. Table 1 compares the five most common sports played by high school girls in 1973 and 2017. During this timeframe, the number of female participants in sports that we consider to be historically female sports, such as gymnastics, have decreased, while the participation of girls in historically male sports, such as wrestling, ice hockey and football, has grown at a rapid rate, particularly over the past 20 yr.[2]

The responsibility and skill of the sports medicine physician in evaluating and treating athletes relies on the knowledge of not only the injury itself, but the incidence, risk factors, and relevance to a particular athlete's sport. Unfortunately, as it relates to women in these relatively newer sports, there is very little data about the epidemiology and pathophysiology of such injuries. The development of women's sports medicine programs at academic centers around the country can aid in the development and dissemination of knowledge regarding this evolving population of athletes. The purpose of this review is to highlight the current and relevant topics in the evaluation and management of the female athlete.