Advice line: Women in sport

The menstrual cycle’s influence on sportswomen is unclear, says Niki Gabb.

BBC tennis pundit and former British No 1 Annabel Croft believes that the impact of the menstrual cycle on performance is the last taboo in women's sport. She was commenting after British tennis star Heather Watson received on-court treatment for dizziness, nausea and low energy levels during her first round defeat in the 2015 Australian Open. 
The effect of the menstrual cycle on sports performance has long been the subject of heated debate in the research community. Topics include the effect of hormonal changes on female structures and whether the changes (in isolation) actually increase the risk of injury.  
There is, however, a broad consensus that female athletes have a greater risk of sustaining non-contact anterior cruciate ligament injuries than their male counterparts. Some commonly cited explanations for this difference include anatomical, hormonal, environmental and/or neuromuscular factors.  
What is less clear is the effectiveness of prevention strategies to mitigate against these risk factors. There is, however, a growing body of research investigating the efficacy of these types of injury prevention programmes.
A recent topic in the menstrual cycle debate is the contentious subject of concussion. While there has been much discussion on the reporting of concussion in sport, what is often not highlighted is that women appear to take longer to recover from the symptoms of a concussion than their male counterparts.
Researchers believe that the longer recovery times could be due, in part, to large fluctuations in hormones at certain times of menstrual cycle:
In short, the impact of the menstrual cycle on women in sport may not have hit the headlines until relatively recently but researchers continue to work to understand the consequences of the so-called last taboo.
Niki Gabb is a CSP professional adviser

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