About the program
Nearly 3.2 million girls compete in high school sports, more than 10 times as many as in in the 1970s. Likewise, more women play collegiate sports than ever. Whether playing at a recreational or national level, millions of young women are redefining the boundaries of what female athletes can do through the participation in sports and other athletics.
The benefits are many. In addition to building stronger, healthier bodies, athletic activity can build self-esteem. However, the drive to excel can also put athletes at risk. Injuries such as concussions, stress fractures, and ligament tears can sideline young athletes whose identities revolve around their sport. Further, many young athletes respond to the pressure to perform by cutting back on meals, depriving their bodies of fuel they need for rigorous training.
Leaders in comprehensive care
The Female Athlete Program at Boston Children's Hospital takes a comprehensive approach to diagnosing, treating, and managing sports injuries in female athletes. We start by assessing the whole athlete, including exercise habits, hormonal balance, and nutritional needs — not just symptoms and injuries — to ensure peak performance.
Learn more from our medical experts and patients
“We want to give female athletes the tools to train smarter, fuel better and enjoy the process.”
— Dr. Kathryn Ackerman, Female Athlete Program Director
Our team is made up of leaders in sports medicine who understand the importance of sports in a young athlete’s life. Many of us played competitive sports in high school and college, and some of us competed at a national level and international level. Some of us are team physicians for nationally renowned organizations such as U.S. Rowing, U.S. Figure Skating, the Boston Ballet, and the Boston Marathon. We collaborate with local, national, and international organizations such as the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on improving policies and the care of female athletes. We respect the strength and determination of female athletes and work with our patients to help them reach their athletic potential.
We specialize in:
- ACL injury and recovery
- concussion prevention and recovery
- sports psychology in performance, injury, and recovery
- female athlete triad and relative energy deficiency in sport
- sports nutrition and how to fuel up for your best performance
- bone health and low bone density
- sports endocrine issues
Empowering female athletes
As part of the Sports Medicine Program at Boston Children’s, the Female Athlete Program focuses on girls and women in sports along with their risks and injuries. We care for athletes of all ages, from elite professionals to eager novices, to help them remain healthy and at the top of their game.
Female athletes suffer more concussions and often take longer to recover than boys. They are also at higher risk of knee injuries. We believe the answer is not to tell young athletes to stop playing, but to focus on building strength and optimizing technique to prevent future injury and promote healing.
Too often, we find that female athletes are not eating enough to refuel between workouts. This is particularly true in sports that value lean bodies such as gymnastics, figure skating, running, and lightweight rowing. The female athlete triad is a combination of low energy availability, irregular periods (menstrual dysfunction), and poor bone health (decreased bone density and increased fracture risk). In recent years, clinicians have started to use the term “relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S)” to recognize the broader impact on athletic performance and other health issues, and the fact that male athletes are also at risk.
We educate young athletes on proper nutrition and its importance in athletic performance. We also educate other clinicians, coaches, and parents on the signs of RED-S and how to intervene appropriately.
In addition to helping and supporting young women in sports, we train other clinicians in the specific health issues that make female athletes unique. Every two years, we host the Female Athlete Conference, a global event designed for female athletes, coaches, trainers, clinicians, and anyone involved in the evaluation and management of female athletes.
We are also leading groundbreaking research into the issues female athletes face on the playing field and in recovery.
Female athlete health guides
To help female athletes stay at the top of their game, we have created a suite of educational guides on some of the issues we see most often.