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Teen female athletes suffering stress fractures

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

Alarmed by the increase in stress fractures linked to excessive weight control efforts among teenage female athletes, the Japan Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists will launch a program to educate medical professionals on the problem.

JAOG on Thursday said it will launch a program to train obstetricians and gynecologists on how to examine female athletes more effectively. The athletes, mainly in their teens, usually encounter the problem when strict weight control efforts disrupt their menstrual cycle, reducing hormones believed to have a strengthening effect on bones.

“It’s important for obstetricians and gynecologists to be deeply involved in female athletes’ health, and to build a framework in which young female athletes can consult doctors with peace of mind,” said Tomoko Adachi, a gynecologist and executive director of JAOG. “It is our association’s responsibility to educate and supply information to the athletes.”

The athletes affected are usually involved in such sports as long-distance running and rhythmic gymnastics, JAOG said.

The organization plans to hold training sessions for obstetricians and gynecologists in all 47 prefectures starting in September, teaching them treatment methods and the appropriate use of medications that don’t violate doping regulations, including pills to treat menstruation complications.

Adachi lamented the nationwide lack of obstetricians and gynecologists with proper knowledge of young female athletes, and said the availability of adequate medical care for them varies widely across Japan.

“I would like to see female athletes able to go and consult doctors in each local community across the country,” Adachi said.

The association intends to raise awareness among athletes and coaches about the importance of not overlooking problems associated with menstruation, and of consulting the doctors at an early stage.

The campaign will include distributing leaflets made by the association that explain the relationship between menstruation and female hormones.

It is believed that female hormones secreted during menstruation help to protect bones. Women after menopause are often more prone to osteoporosis than younger women, but even younger women who lose weight dramatically may lose their menstrual cycle, triggering the reduction of female hormones and thus the weakening of the bones.

Pressure put on weakened bones from heavy exercise can cause stress fractures. According to a survey by NHK in February and March on 417 university students competing in track and field, gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and volleyball, 45 percent said they have experienced absence of menstruation in junior high or high school.

Moreover, one-third of those who experienced lack of menstruation said they also had stress fractures.

In an NHK survey of 640 high school coaches of female athletes, more than half said they didn’t know about the relationship between lack of menstruation and stress fractures.

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni

    If majority of high school coaches of female athletes don’t know about the relationship between lack of menstruation and stress fractures, let them earn their living as ‘shoe shine’ boys at public places…