New program offers holistic approach to treat the female athlete

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Boston Children's Hospital announces the Female Athlete Program, co-directed by Kathryn Ackerman, MD, MPH and Martha Murray, MD, both of the Sports Medicine Division. One of the only programs in the country of its kind, the Female Athlete Program combines sports medicine specialties to help pediatric and adult female athletes stay as healthy as possible while competing.

Supported by a team of a world-class sports medicine physicians, the program offers multi-disciplinary care and stands out for its specialized treatment and research on the Female Athlete Triad (the interrelationship between bone health, nutrition and menstrual cycles). The team has also conducted landmark research on knee pain and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, which are five to eight times more prevalent in girls.

"Having a program that fully understands the culture of female athletic competition as well as the intricacies of the female musculoskeletal and hormonal systems is paramount," says Ackerman. "We want female athletes to be as healthy as possible while still enhancing their competitive performance."

In the last 40 years, the number of girls competing in high school sports increased from fewer than 295,000 to nearly 3.2 million, and more women are paying collegiate sports than ever before. The need for a program with customized care for female athletes is crucial, and the Female Athlete Program centers on the specific health issues make female athletes unique, such as:

>>Interrelationship of nutrition, menstrual cycles and bone health

>>concussion and ACL injury prevention and treatment

>>adolescent sports health

>>metabolic assessment for athletic performance

>>pregnancy and exercise safety

"During adolescence, women's bodies mature differently than men's. While most boys gain muscle mass relatively easily during puberty, it's not automatic for young women.  However, women athletes can work to improve their strength and agility and subsequently reduce their risk of injury," says Murray.

"Our goal is to help female athletes learn how to minimize injuries by increasing their awareness of how to best train and prepare for sports."

Boston Children's Female Athlete Program sees patients in all four of its locations in Boston, Lexington, Peabody and Waltham, and will conduct a two-day conference on June 8 and 9 in Boston.