Home World Female athletes are calling for more research into periods. That’s why

Female athletes are calling for more research into periods. That’s why

At the 2022 European Championships, sprinter Dina Usher-Smith – the fastest British woman ever – hit the headlines when she revealed she was unable to finish the race due to period pain.
“More people should actually be looking into it from a sports science perspective because it’s so huge,” she told the BBC.

“It could do with more funding … I feel like if it was a men’s issue, we’d have a million different ways to deal with things, but with women, we just need more funding in this area.”

Her feelings were echoed by female athletes around the world.

So how much research has actually been done in this area, why don’t we know more about it, and will the situation change in the future?

How does menstruation affect athletes?

Chloe Dalton, GWS Giants AFLW player and founder of media platform The Female Athlete Project, says she suffers from severe nausea and pain every month due to her period.
“I feel like I’m getting stabbed a lot, which is really horrible, so combining that with regular intense training is really difficult,” she told SBS News.

“A lot of the time I probably didn’t feel comfortable … putting my hand up and saying, ‘I can’t practice today because of this.’

AFLW player Chloe Dalton says she struggles with a significant amount of period pain each month. Source: Getty / Ian Hitchcock

“If you had back pain or hamstring pain, it was a similar level of pain, but it’s probably not something that’s widely recognized … I don’t think a lot of staff have been educated enough about it.”

Dr Briana Larsen, a lecturer in sport and exercise at the University of Southern Queensland, told SBS News that elite athletes often have higher levels of menstrual dysfunction and may experience more problems such as amenorrhea (absence of periods) or polycystic ovary syndrome. (PCOS).
“Even though these topics are really relevant, and they represent a group that is generally very in control of what they eat, and they report on their sleep, their mood, their training load, and all these other things, this field just doesn’t became the previous level of attention, even if it affects many athletes,” she said.

“It can mean things like cramps that will affect their ability to work … some people have really heavy periods and they actually become anemic during their period, so they feel tired and weak and things like that … there can also be mood swings “.

“Most athletes say these things negatively affect their ability to train and perform at different times of the month.”
Dr Larsen said around 50 per cent of female athletes in Australia were likely to use hormonal contraception, with many using the pill to regulate their periods.
In turn, however, hormonal contraceptives can also have mental and physical effects.
Dr. Kathleen Casta, a behavioral neuroendocrinology researcher and former high-level student athlete, says premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a condition with physiological and psychological consequences, can also cause complications.
“People who have PMDD or PMS may be at increased risk of injury, motivational complications, and general psychological and physiological symptoms that make low performance especially difficult in the days leading up to their period and may put them at risk of injury.” , she said. said.

“It’s important for these people to know (about the condition), but the science of how to mitigate these effects is still far behind.”

What research has been done in this space?

Lindsay Arthur is a PhD student at the University of Melbourne and researches competitiveness and motivation during the menstrual cycle and how this can be affected by the pill.

“One of the things that frustrates me most about this literature is that (there is) so little of it,” she said.

“There are some studies, but not a lot of them, and what there is … has some pretty significant methodological limitations.”
Dr. Casta agreed, noting that female athletes have historically been underrepresented in sports medicine and sports science.
She also said that conducting this type of research is quite difficult and has had its drawbacks in the past.
“There are many methodological problems with the accuracy of determining the phase of the menstrual cycle and measuring hormone levels,” she said.

“There are some studies that have … potential methodological problems with small sample sizes or imprecise or invalid methods for determining menstrual cycle phase.”

The Australian Institute of Sport is launching a landmark project

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is currently running a landmark camp on the effects of menstrual and hormonal contraceptives on female athletes.

The project is a joint collaboration between the AIS, the National Rugby League for Women (NRLW), the Australian Catholic University (ACU) and the Wu Tsai Human Performance Athlete Innovation Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

A Turby league player stands on the indoor track

The research camp for female athletes will see 26 members of the NRL Indigenous Women’s Academy train full-time at AIS in Canberra for a camp focusing on the effects of menstrual and hormonal contraceptives on female athletes. Source: Delivered / AIS

The research camp for female athletes will see 26 members of the NRL Indigenous Women’s Academy train full-time at the AIS in Canberra, while being supervised and supported daily by 12 female researchers conducting 10 different studies.

Project leader Dr. Rachel Harris said the camp will explore the correlation between athletic performance and women’s health, including the effects of the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptives on injury prevention, energy levels, recovery and sleep.

“We’ve seen incredible growth in women’s sports over the past decade, and it’s critical that we commit to research and innovation to support the health and performance of our female athletes,” said Dr. Harris.

Menstruation “should not be perceived as weakness”

Dr. Casta said that while this research is extremely important and needs funding, it is vital that the messages are not misinterpreted.
“We need to be careful about how we communicate this science and make sure we are careful in applying this science to protect the data and the bodies of women in sport (and them),” she said.
“There’s a tension in the history of how the menstrual cycle has been a weapon to say that women can’t or shouldn’t be able to do things that men do … I don’t want science to be. It used to be said that women are less able to do things”.
Dalton also said that menstruation should not be seen as a weakness, but as an important part of a woman’s body and physiology.
“Women’s bodies are incredible, the fact that we can carry babies and give birth, it’s pretty amazing what our bodies can do,” she said.
“It’s a really fine balance where we want to have equal access, we want to have equal pay, we want to have equal resources for women’s sports … but we don’t need our bodies to be compared to men’s.”

“I don’t think it’s something that should be seen as a weakness just because we can be affected by periods, I think it’s really important that we don’t shy away from talking about it.”


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