Musculoskeletal and Rheumatology Blog

4 Tips for Female Runners

Young woman running

Spring is in the air, and you might be feeling the urge to get out and move. Running seems like a great option; after all, you get to spend time outside where it’s peaceful and quiet. But starting a running program is not as simple as grabbing an old pair of gym shoes and hitting the pavement.

Here are four things the Penn Center for the Female Athlete co-director Kate E. Temme, MD, wants you to think about before you create your summer running playlist:

The Hormones Have It

"After adolescence, there are many physiological differences that affect how women and men run," says Dr. Temme. Men and women produce the same hormones, but in different amounts. Men produce more testosterone.

This leads to more muscle mass in male runners, which, in addition to having larger hearts, lungs, and blood volume, is why men often run faster than women.

"Despite these differences, men and women show similar benefits in response to training, including strength gains and cardiovascular health," Dr. Temme says.

However, women have some dangers to beware of. They're more vulnerable to patellofemoral pain syndrome—also known as Runner's Knee, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

If you've had it, you know it's pain at the front of the knee, around or behind the kneecap. It's an overuse injury that occurs when the kneecap doesn't track properly in the thighbone groove.

Runner's Knee can be related to:

  • Leg alignment problems (hip, knee, and/or feet)
  • Joint looseness
  • Weak or tight muscles in the thighs or hips

Rest, medication and strengthening exercises can all help Runner's Knee, the NLM says. Your physician will discuss treatment options that are right for you.

Women are also more vulnerable than men to stress fractures—another type of overuse injury—that might cause a hairline crack in the bone, often in the shinbones or feet in runners. At first, the pain might appear only when you run or do physical activity. But in time, it might become constant, the NLM explains. With a stress fracture, you will need treatment from your physician.

If you're taking the personal trainer route, it doesn't matter if the trainer is male or female. "What matters most is that they are in tune with the specific needs of the athlete and the particular demands of their sport," says Dr. Temme.

Be Aware of the Female Athlete Triad

Sometimes, runners don’t eat enough to fuel both their running and the general needs of their bodies. Of course, this can happen due to the pressure society puts on women to be thin. But it can also occur accidentally when athletes don't realize how much food they need to eat to stay healthy.

What Is The Female Athlete Triad?

It means you might have issues with:

  • Poor nutrition—you're not eating enough
  • Menstrual problems
  • Weak bones

Source: American College of Sports Medicine

The triad affects different people in different ways. Some people might have menstrual problems like skipped periods, others might have bone problems. Many will have some degree of problems with each.

Eating habits can vary, too. Some people might never eat enough; others might eat enough some days, but not others. So, if you're not consistently eating in a healthy way, you could still have the female athlete triad.

"The amount of energy that's available to your body from food is the core component of the triad," Dr. Temme explains. "When female runners don't get enough nutrition, they develop low energy, which can negatively impact a number of critical processes in their bodies. Those include bone and reproductive health."

Stress fractures and irregular or missed periods can be warning signs of the triad. If you or a friend have any concerns about the triad, talk to a physician immediately.

There's An App For That

Beginning runners have a large amount of choice when it comes to running apps, and it's important to find the app that is right for you. "There is a higher risk for overuse injuries in people who suddenly increase their speed, intensity, or distance," Dr. Temme says. "Apps and training programs must be mindful of these needs in order to be safe and effective."

And whether or not you use one of these apps, it’s important to stay safe when starting a new routine. Dr. Temme recommends:

  • Slowly increasing mileage
  • Taking rest days
  • Cross training
  • Listening to your body

The Juggling Game Can Get In Your Way

"Women sometimes have trouble making time to run because they wear so many different hats in life, and trying to find a work/life balance can be challenging," says Dr. Temme.

Even if it's a challenge, Dr. Temme encourages women to carve out some time to run or do another type of physical activity. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, exercise can give you a health boost in numerous ways, such as:

  • Keeping your weight under control
  • Reducing your risk for cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease
  • Making your bones and muscles stronger
  • Improving your mood

You’ll be doing yourself a favor if you exercise. "Getting regular physical activity can also make it easier to do everyday activities, and may even extend your life," Dr. Temme says. "Finding time to care for yourself is critical to your health."

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Keep up-to-date on the latest advancements in the musculoskeletal field, including bone, muscle and joint disease treatments, and other updates from experts at Penn Medicine. 

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