Young Women Prone to Bone Fracture

Young female army recruits have three times the risk for stress fractures compared with their male peers, according to a British study. Researchers at the Royal Hospital in Hampshire, UK, report their findings in the January 2nd issue of the British Medical Journal.

The authors “noticed a fourfold increase in referrals (for bone injury) between 1994 and 1996.” Following the initiation of a new military equal opportunities policy in 1993, women recruits were “exposed to the same rigorous, physically demanding exercise as men.”

To determine whether or not the inclusion of women prompted the observed increase in injury, the researchers examined the bone scans of all 264 recruits (143 men, 121 women) treated by army physicians for lower limb trauma between 1995-1997. During that period, 3,367 men and 855 women enlisted in the British army.

According to the authors, 10.9% of all female recruits displayed “abnormal” bone scans indicating either stress fracture or shin splint, compared with just 3% of male recruits.

In an interview with Reuters Health, lead author Dr. M.A. McLeod attributed this finding to the fact that “the female skeleton is lighter than that of the male and the muscles are less bulky, rendering them less efficient in counteracting periods of severe stress and strains.”

The researcher also pointed out that female subjects experienced a higher number of pelvic fractures, compared with males (17 versus 2, respectively). This finding might also have an anatomical basis, McLeod said, since an area of the underside of the pelvic bone, called the ramus, is somewhat thinner in women than in men. This factor, in addition to the “increased angular biomechanical strain (placed) on the wider pelvis” of women may account for some of the disparity in injury rates observed between the sexes, the researcher concluded.

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