A number of bodily processes are interconnected, and a problem in one area can lead to issues in another. One such interconnected grouping is what’s known as the female athlete triad. It is a common issue among teenage and young adult female athletes, and it’s something our physical therapy group is quite familiar with. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at the female athlete triad and explain how a physical therapist can help you overcome a deficiency in any one of these areas.
What Is The Female Athlete Triad?
The female athlete triad is a group of interrelated conditions that have a propensity to affect young female athletes. Considering the bodily changes and physical forces at play during the teenages years in competitive athletes, it’s easy to see how one of these conditions can get out of balance and cause problems for the others.
The three measurable factors that form the female athlete triad are:
- Nutrition and the energy availability garnered from the diet
- Bone mineral density
- Menstrual cycle balance
Problems with any one aspect of the triad can lead to more problems in other parts. For example, poor nutrition can lead to decreased bone density quality, and menstrual irregularity can affect dietary choices and in turn energy level. Estimates suggest that 16 percent of all female high school and college athletes deal with deficiencies in all three aspects of the triad, and 60 percent deal with deficiencies in one of the measurable factors.
Of the three, poor dietary choices tend to have the greatest impact on the other two factors, which are bone density and menstrual regularity. Poor nutrition or the presence of an eating disorder can be the primary factor in poor bone density during a critical stage of development. Bad eating habits can also affect the part of the brain that controls hormone regulation and in turn throw off the menstrual cycle. However, the physical demands of athletics can also throw any of these systems out of whack, again putting stress on the other factors.
Treating The Female Athlete Triad With Physical Therapy
Treating the female athlete triad involves focusing on all three aspects and providing the client with the tools they need to help avoid problems in any one area. A physical therapist can help by:
- Identifying the signs and symptoms of the female athlete triad.
- Screening the athlete for risks or deficiencies
- Developing an exercise program that helps the athlete without putting them at risk for problems related to overexertion.
- Teaching the athlete and their family about how dietary choices can impact all aspects of their triad and their overall health.
- Create a safe return-to-play plan for an athlete overcoming a deficiency or injury.
- Explain the psychological components that factor into triad deficiencies.
Treating female athlete triad problems isn’t always easy because it requires a skilled physical therapist or medical professional to diagnose the underlying issue. If you try to treat the stress fracture, but not the dietary disorder that contributed to the decreased bone density that factored into the fracture, you won’t address the issue in its entirety.
Our team of physical therapists are highly trained in understanding the interconnectedness of bodily systems in young athletes, and we can help you treat the root cause, not your symptoms. To learn more about how we can help treat female triad issues, or to see if your health issue could be caused by a deficiency with one of the aspects of the triad, reach out to the team at OrthoRehab Specialists today.