Health issues in athletics

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Health issues of athletics concern the health and well-being of athletes who participate in an organized sport. If athletes are physically and mentally underdeveloped, they are susceptible to mental or physical problems. Athletes trying to improve their performance in sports can harm themselves by overtraining, adopting eating habits that damage them physically or psychologically, and using steroids or supplements.

Female Athlete Triad[edit]

The Female Athlete Triad is a condition among women that consists of three related health irregularities: disordered eating habits, irregular menstruation, and premature bone loss or osteoporosis.[1] The term was coined in the early 1990s when researchers from the National Institutes of Health noticed unusual health patterns among female athletes. These researchers observed increases in eating habit disorders in young female athletes.[2] Exercising intensely while getting inadequate nutrition can lead to amenorrhea - or irregular menstrual cycles - which in turn can lead to osteoporosis.[2]

Competitive Thinness[edit]

Female athletes tend to compare themselves to their competitors, which is another factor for athletes to develop female athlete triad. Competitive thinness is a term used when athletes compare themselves to their rivals who are performing better than them. When athletes begin to compare themselves to their competitors and notice the athletes who are performing better than them are thinner, it can lead to a weight loss mentality. Another risk factor to competitive thinness is related to revealing uniforms. For aesthetic sports, these uniforms are normally very tight, which shows off the athletes’ body. These uniforms can cause athletes to develop unhealthy body comparisons.[3]


A female athlete who feels pressured to maintain a certain physique or body weight may exercise excessively and develop eating disorders to restrict calorie intake. Over-exercising increases the need for rest; her overall energy declines, causing her total body fat and estrogen levels to drop - a condition known as amenorrhea.[4] Both male and female athletes may feel the pressure to over-train excessively in order to achieve a certain body image. The human body has a tremendous capacity to adapt to physical stress. "Stress" does not mean only physical damage. It can also refer to activity beneficial to bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, making them stronger and more functional. This is also known as "remodeling," and involves both the breakdown and buildup of tissue. However, if breakdown occurs more rapidly than buildup, an overuse injury can result.[5] Nearly half of all injuries encountered in pediatric sports medicine are due to overuse. An overuse injury is traumatic damage to a bone, muscle, or tendon that is subjected to repetitive stress without time to heal naturally, as a result of long and/or high-intensity workouts.[6] Many young athletes participate in sports year-round or on multiple teams at once. Another factor could be parental pressure to compete and succeed. Other risk factors include sleep deprivation, general physical and cognitive immaturity, dietary imbalance and inadequate physical fitness.[7] Among young athletes, a common form of overuse injury is stress fractures, which include injuries of the:

'Over-training Syndrome' is a term that has been used to describe athletes who, while training for competition, train beyond the body's ability to recover naturally.[8] Common warning signs include tiredness, soreness, drop in performance, headaches, and loss of enthusiasm. Without adequate rest and recovery, training regimens can backfire, eventually harming an athlete's performance. Over-training can also be associated with eating disorders; athletes can turn to excessive exercise in order to lose weight. In cases where athletes are over-training, the most effective treatment is rest and proper nutrition.


Anabolic steroids are artificially produced hormones called androgens, which are essentially male-type sex hormones in the body. The most powerful of the androgens is testosterone. Another group of steroids are steroidal supplements, a weaker form of androgens. Steroids and supplements are controversial when used for sports because of the health risks associated with them. Some serious and long-term effects on the body are hair loss, dizziness, mood swings, delusions, paranoia, high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.[9] More recent studies also suggest that steroid users have an increased risk of depression and alcohol use later in life. Doctors call this the 'snowball effect' of steroid-related health problems. Injury patterns suggest that joint ligaments are not able to adapt to steroid-enhanced muscles, leading to injury.[10]

Heat Illness[edit]

Heat illness and dehydration are typically brought on by high temperatures and high humidity. These conditions carry increased risk for young athletes, particularly at the beginning of a season, when they are less fit. Other factors that increase vulnerability include: heat-retaining clothing, recent illness, previous experience with heat illness, chronic conditions, and sleep deprivation.[11] Additional precautions should be taken if a child is taking supplements or using cold medication.

Heat illnesses are among the primary causes of sports-related death or disability. They require immediate medical attention. Symptoms to watch for are as follows:

  • dry or sticky mouth[11]
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • cramps
  • unusual fatigue
  • confusion[12]
  • loss of consciousness


Sports injuries are often the result of overuse or trauma to a part of the body. An issue unique to youth athletics is that the participants’ bones are still growing,[8] making them especially at risk for injury. Around 8,000 children are rushed to the emergency room daily because of sports injuries.[13] High school athletes suffer approximately 715,000 injuries annually. In American football, for instance, five times as many catastrophic injuries happen in high school as in college-level competition.[14] Injuries include heat illness and dehydration, concussions, and trauma-related deaths. Heat illnesses are a rising concern in youth athletics. These illnesses include heat syncope, muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and exertional hyponatremia.[12] Each year, high school athletes sustain 300,000 head injuries, of which 90% are concussions.[15] By the start of high school, 53% of athletes will have already suffered a concussion, but fewer than 50% of them say anything because they are concerned they will be removed from play. Ice hockey, soccer, lacrosse, wrestling and basketball have a high risk of concussion, with football carrying the most risk. A history of concussion in a football player can contribute to sports-related sudden death.[16]


To prevent an injury, proper warm-up is extremely important, because it lets athletes increase their heart rates. Proper warm-up also increases muscle temperature. Warm muscles are less susceptible to injuries because they can contract more forcefully and relax more quickly. As a result, both speed and strength can be enhanced. Also, the probability of over-stretching a muscle and causing injury is much lower.[5] Warm-ups also increase body and blood temperature, which allows more oxygen to reach the muscles, improves muscle elasticity, and reduces the risk of strains and pulls.[17] Other forms of prevention include strengthening muscles, increasing flexibility, taking breaks, weight training, and playing safe. Mental preparation is also important before practice or games. Clearing the mind and visualizing skills and strategy can relax the athlete's muscles and build concentration.

Sports-related death[edit]

Sometimes sports injuries can be so severe that they lead to death. In 2010 48 youths died from sports injuries.[18] The leading causes of death in youth sports are sudden cardiac arrest, concussion, heat illness and external sickling. Cardiac-related deaths are usually due to an undiagnosed cardiovascular disorder.[19] Trauma to the head, neck and spine can also be lethal. Among young American athletes, more than half of trauma-related deaths take place among football players, with track and field, lacrosse, baseball, boxing, and soccer also having relatively high fatality rates.[16]


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  2. ^ a b O' Reilly, Jean (2007). Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England. p. 117. 
  3. ^ "Eating Disorders Among Athletes". Retrieved 2015-10-30. 
  4. ^ Jenkins, Alexis. "Overtraining in Female Athletes". Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
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  14. ^ Werkmeister, Joe. “Health and Fitness: Youth Sports Injuries — A Growing Problem.” North Shore Sun. TimesReview Newsgroup, 3 Jan. 2011. Web. 7 Oct. 2011. <‌2011/‌01/‌4819/‌health-and-fitness-youth-sports-injuries-—-a-growing-problem/>.
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  16. ^ a b Thomas, M, et al. “Epidemiology of Sudden Death in Young, Competitive Athletes Due To Blunt Trauma.” Pediatrics 128.1 (2011): e1-8. Print.
  17. ^ Matava, Matthew. "Stop Sports Injury". Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
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