Playing Through Your Period?
“There are days when you want to lay in bed all day and you don’t want to get up, but the best thing is to get moving.” - Aly Raisman
In the mid 1800’s and into the 20th century, the prescription given by medical doctors to middle-class girls just starting their periods was a regimen of rest and relaxation that withdrew girls from the social world and from physical activity. In fact, a girl’s physical education was highly regulated during this time in her life, as it was feared that too much exercise would result in a deficiency in the girl’s energy supply and make it difficult for fulfill her role as a wife and mother later in life. These ideas have shifted a lot since this time, and attitudes around menstruation have certainly changed as well. Hundreds of millions of girls get their periods and continue going to school, play sports and live their lives without being required to take a week long break every time they get their period, expressing their worth beyond that of traditional motherhood and wifehood.
However, there is still some concern about specific health conditions related to the menstrual cycle and how this relates to girl’s participation in physical activity. Some of these concerns linger from outdated medical theory, but as the menstrual cycle does create very real fluctuations in how your body works, the question of how to participate in sport and stay healthy regarding menstruation is still a very real concern. Unfortunately, while it affects half of the population, medical studies on the effects of menstruation are still relatively scarce. But, as time has gone on some observations have been made in how menstruation affects athletic performance and the risk of injury for girls who play sports.
One of the modern concerns regarding the effects of menstruation on athletes is a possible correlation between anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and periods, linking menstrual hormone fluctuations with an increased risk of ACL tearing. The ACL has numerous estrogen receptors which could be responsible for the increased risk of tearing during menstruation when the levels of estrogen in your body change a lot. Unfortunately, few substantial studies have been done on this phenomenon and some scientific reviews find the quality of said research to be questionable. It is more substantiated that muscular performance does change throughout the menstrual cycle and one’s period, but the effects have less to do with potential injury and more to do with how muscles use energy. This may be more impactful to training with menstruation in mind than possibly unsubstantiated fear over ACL tears. It is believed that during the first half of the menstrual cycle (the first fourteen days or so --starting with your period) that muscles are in a state more suited to doing strength training. During the other half of your menstrual cycle, the fourteen before your period, your muscles may be better suited for burning stores of built up energy and endurance exercise.
Aside from differences in muscle performance and any risk associated with those functions, periods and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) can affect our well-being in general, from the onset of migraines, to bloating, and mood swings. These symptoms alone can make it hard to find motivation to participate in sport, but it has been suggested that exercise may help alleviate some of these symptoms through the reduction of inflammation. And exercise during these times can be advantageous to your training, as was explained with the differences in muscle performance throughout menstruation. It is important however, to listen to your body and take care of it’s needs first and foremost. If you find yourself in constant pain throughout your period, or experience symptoms you haven’t before, be sure to talk to a doctor. A doctor can help address the issue, prescribe any necessary medications, and can even help you set up an exercise regimen that works for you and keeps you participating in your sport.
Finally, one of the best ways you can alleviate anxiety around your period is to start a dialogue with your team mates and friends. A lot of them are probably going through the same things you are and can offer support and solidarity through your shared experiences. Sometimes a friend giving you the no-leaks thumbs-up in the locker room is the boost of confidence you need to keep going through all the worries your period can bring. It can be intimidating to talk about your period because it has been considered such a taboo, but to truly understand and take advantage of our bodies it must be acknowledged.