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HomeHEALTHMenstruation and its impact on women athletes

Menstruation and its impact on women athletes

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In the growing field of sports psychology, much importance is given to the link between psychology, athletic training and performance. Consequently, the work philosophy of a sports psychologist is to follow certain objectives which are: train athletes to achieve high performance in sports, train them in life skills beyond sports, generate competitive levels and increase a sense of belonging in athletes with their institution. 

Initiation of sports begins at an early stage in life, which later leads to refinement and gradually enters high-performance sports where athletes constantly struggle to reach their peak performance. The process seems to be simple, however, there are many variables involved that impact one’s performance such as motivation, self-concept, physical and mental health. It is not an easy task to become an elite athlete, many abandon competitive sports due to the variables mentioned before.

The gender gap in sports is prevalent across many cultures including our own. At a holistic level, statistics attest to the generalised assumption that the participation of women in sports is far less than men. The reasons for this range from lack of access, social stigma to lack of positive role models and stereotypical upbringing as a child.  Inevitably, the attitude of women themselves tends to change towards sports even though they used to believe differently, it may cause dissonance and eventually strengthen the contrary belief to avoid participating in sports altogether. 

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Although looking from a sociological standpoint, it is evident that the participation of women has shown a surge over the years which has overcome the social stigma to a large extent. However, it is a clear trend even in today’s society for female athletes with ground-breaking talent, to abandon sports because of the high competition, very few opportunities and highly unequal pay as compared to male athletes.

Another reason that affects the participation of females in competitive sports is; biology. Menstruation is a biological process that occurs monthly in females and is associated with the female hormone estrogen. Estrogen plays a key role in achieving good bone health, better fertility outcomes, ultimately resulting in higher performance. It is only recently when menstruation was given attention in the sporting world when certain claims suggested that the menstrual cycle hinders athletic performance and to test this claim, researches were done. More than half of female elite athletes reported that hormonal fluctuations during their menstrual cycle negatively affected their performance. Research indicates fluctuations in strength, metabolism, inflammation, body temperature, and injury risk correspond with hormonal fluctuations during the cycle. Studies have indicated that roughly 75% of athletes reported negative side effects of menses out of which the most common were cramps, back pain, headaches and bloating. 

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Physiological changes in the body during menses contribute to certain negative aspects mentioned previously but none of them has shown a significant impact on performance, as a contrary claim suggested that Olympic gold medallists were on their cycle during their event. All in all, it was concluded that not enough evidence exists to support or deny the claims and there is no direct cause and effect or a strong correlation between the menstrual cycle and sports performance. Many female athletes tend to manipulate their menstruation cycles through the use of hormonal contraceptives, yet there is no hard evidence between HCs and athletic performance either. 

The period between ovulation and menstruation called premenstrual syndrome is prevalent and the degree of effect varies individually. Hormonal changes during menstruation cause mood swings and trigger anger, irritability and depression. These mood changes can cause fatigue in the athlete which could impact their motivation and surge their stress levels; theoretically decreasing their performance. It is claimed that fatigue is linked to a decrease in serotonin levels. However, it has been shown that endorphins are released during training which would elevate your mood. The ‘Distraction Hypothesis’ also claims that training would elevate your mood by distracting one from concerns and conflicts. Anger is a common emotion felt during PMS as well as menses and is linked with athletic performance in a way that could either decrease or increase performance. Anger usually causes more stress to the body leading to frustration and may impair an athlete’s decision making during the game. 

In a nutshell, there is a relation between menstruation and an athlete’s game however, it is nearly impossible to make a generalised comment on the same as every individual has a different experience to their cycles and may not agree that the phenomenon holds them back or aides their performance.  

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Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh
Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh
Currently head of Department of Holistic Medicine & Wellness at Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh is a mental wellness expert with expertise in relationship, lifestyle & stress management. The founder and director of The Mind and Wellness Studio Dr. Rachna Khanna has worked with leading hospitals like Fortis Escorts, Dharamshila Cancer Hospital. Her specialties include stress management, lifestyle management for heart diseases, supportive care for chronically ill patients, work-life balance, parent-child bonding, cancer support care, ante/postnatal care, relationship counselling, pre-marital & marital counselling, adolescent counselling, psychiatric & psychological illnesses like depression, anxiety, insomnia.


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