Some female athletes prone to develop leg pain


NEW YORK (Reuters Health), Sep 28 - Several factors, including disordered eating habits, could put female athletes at greater risk of suffering exercise-related leg pain, new study findings suggest.

Pain in the lower leg is common among both male and female athletes, and may be due to stress fractures, tendon problems, medial tibial stress syndrome (known popularly as "shin splints"), and other causes, Dr. Mark F. Reinking notes in an article in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Reinking, at St. Louis University in Missouri, set out to determine what factors -- both internal and external -- might put female athletes at greater risk of lower leg pain. He followed 76 college athletes through the fall season, 58 of whom had previously reported exercise-related lower-leg pain.

Athletes who developed pain during the current season -- 20 in all -- were compared to a group of 20 athletes, matched by body mass index and sport, who had not developed leg pain.

Young women who had experienced leg pain in the past were more than 13 times as likely as those who had not to develop leg pain during the fall season. Athletes with foot pronation, meaning their feet tended to roll inward, were also at greater risk of exercise-related leg pain.

Half of cross-country runners reported current leg pain, as did 39% of field hockey players, 27% of volleyball players, but just over 3% of soccer players.

There was no difference in scores on the Female Athlete Screening Tool (FAST), a questionnaire designed to identify symptoms of eating disorders, between the athletes who developed lower-leg pain and those who did not.

However, the five athletes who developed stress fractures during the fall season scored significantly higher on the FAST test, indicating more disordered eating, than did those who did not develop leg pain. These athletes also had lower bone mineral density, a measure of skeletal strength.

The findings point toward strategies for preventing exercise-related leg pain, including orthotics for treating foot pronation, and also suggest that spotting and treating athletes with disordered eating early on could help them to ward off stress fractures, Reinking concludes.

SOURCE: The American Journal of Sports Medicine, September 2006.

Last Updated: 2006-09-28 9:33:27 -0400 (Reuters Health)

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