Home > News

Female athlete triad leads to high risk for fractures

Skeletons running.
The female athlete triad is when the symptoms of disordered eating (sometimes referred to as low energy availability), amenorrhea (loss of menstruation) and decreased bone density are present in an athlete. A study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has identified this condition as an extreme risk for fractures and premature bone loss in individuals affected.

The study focused on the likelihood of sustaining a bone stress injury depending on how many female athlete triad symptoms were present. Researchers found that one symptom put athletes at 15 to 21 per cent risk of injury. Two symptoms present corresponded to a 21 to 30 per cent risk of injury. In women with all three female athlete triad symptoms present there was 30 to 50 per cent chance of sustaining a bone stress injury.

Young women are particularly at risk, as adolescence to age 25 is the most critical bone-building stage of life. Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, the lead study author and orthopaedic surgeon stressed that any bone loss prior to the age of 25 cannot be gained and that after age 25, women can only hope to maintain the mass that they have built up.

Eating disorders are a real challenge in the world of competitive endurance sports, where being lighter often equals faster times, but the payoff doesn’t last in the long run with the injury risk. Female athletes who have experienced menstruation abnormalities should contact their doctor for advice.