Anything men can do women can do too. From weekend warrior fitness classes to professional sports women are excelling at every level of athletics. They are also – like men – occasionally getting hurt at every level. However, their injuries are not usually similar to those of their male counterparts. At University of Utah Health’s Orthopaedic Center, they take that into account – offering services in a sports medicine clinic aimed exclusively at treating women.
“Women have wider pelvises, and their joints tend to be more flexible,” said Emily Harold, MD, a sports medicine physician in the clinic. “They are more likely to suffer ACL tears, runner’s knee, or ankle sprains – which are just a few of the conditions we treat every day in the clinic.”
The focus on women is not the only thing unique about the clinic. All of the clinicians seeing patients are women with backgrounds in athletics. Harold played basketball in her college days before heading to medical school. “Because of my background I have a better understanding of the injury patterns of female athletes,” she said. “I know what it takes to shoot a basket or hit a ball, and I know how women get hurt when something goes wrong.”
Understanding the physiology of female athletes is not the only reason to have former athletes on staff. Members of the UUH team also understand the psychology of these athletics as well. They understand the drive to get back on to the field, and into the game. They have felt the frustration of having to sit on the sidelines. “I know that these women want to get back to being active,” said Harold. “But I also know how their injuries can persist if they return too soon. My past in athletics helps me balance these two things and help put patients on the most effective path to recovery.”
The treatment of immediate injuries isn’t the only concern of the practitioners at the clinic. The clinic also aims to reduce the likelihood of injury by giving female athletes access to sports nutritionists, exercise physiologists, and injury prevention programs. These are the same programs that are being made available to members of the women’s U.S. Speed Skating team, female athletes at the University of Utah, and multiple high school athletic programs.
Bone health is a key part of the injury prevention component at the clinic. Women are more likely to suffer from stress fractures due to problems with bone health. Many assume that changes in bones only occur as women age and become at risk for osteoporosis. However, that is not the case. “In younger women changes in nutrition or relative energy deficiency can lead to problems with bones,” said Harold. “If we can track these imbalances we can possibly help them avoid a fracture in the future.”
The clinic is open Wednesdays and Thursdays and the team is ready to help women work through injuries, set performance goals, and improve their overall orthopaedic health. Often appointments can be same day to see a physician or receive physical therapy.
“We are a team of women who were college athletes,” said Harold. “That unique understanding allows us to provide the best care possible and keep women at the top of their game when it comes to athletic performance.”