Calling all female athletes or parents of active girls – listen up! We as physical therapists love when you are active, competitive, and driven to succeed but there is an under-recognized and under-reported phenomenon seen in active women that can cause serious health issues. I’m talking about the “Female Athlete Triad” – a combination of different but related conditions including disordered eating, amenorrhea (absent or irregular periods), and osteoporosis (decreased bone mass).
Look out for excessive or rapid weight loss, preoccupation with food or weight, mealtime rituals, avoiding team meals or secretive eating. Disordered eating combined with excessive physical activity can in turn cause amenorrhea and osteoporosis due to inadequate caloric intake.
This triad is often seen in women who are highly driven and excel in their sport – which is often an individual sport or one based on appearance (gymnastics, figure skating, running, or even ballet). These athletes are often perfectionists and are looking for control in all aspects of their life.
Physical signs may include stress fractures, yellowing of the skin, soft baby hair on the skin, frequent sore throats, chipmunk-like cheeks, dental cavities or foul breath, fatigue, dizziness, and depression.
If you suspect someone you know may have disordered eating or exercising habits, strongly encourage them to seek medical treatment. They often require the help of a doctor, nutritionist, psychologist and the support of their family, friends, teammates, and coaches to recover.
-Erin Bell PT, DPT
Resources for parents or loved ones: