Hopes menstrual cycle can help in post-surgery recovery

Source: 1News

A ground-breaking injury rehabilitation program is currently being trialled using the menstrual cycle to help women recover from knee surgery.

Erikana Pedersen.

Physiotherapist Emma O’Loughlin says the taboo around periods in sport, is currently holding sports science back.

Periods aren’t often spoken about in sport, and the role of the menstrual cycle in injury recovery has never been studied - until now.

"Physio hasn't really looked at female specific rehab programmes before, a lot of our research is designed for men," says O'Loughlin.

The lack of female focused research sparked the Auckland University of Technology PhD candidate to start a study looking at how the period can be used to help someone to recover from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery.

"For the first two weeks after you get your period your estrogen builds in your body, and estrogen is basically a female version of testosterone, so it helps us recover and repair from resistance exercise," she explains.

Applying this idea to those in rehab from knee surgery makes sense according to O’Loughlin, who says women are 3-6 times more likely to injure their ACL than men.

ACL injuries are extremely common in high impact sports. Research published in the September 2019 issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery shows ACL reconstruction surgeries have increased markedly in teenage girls (15 to 19).

The trial of women rehabbing to their menstrual cycles takes someone who has been through reconstructive surgery, and tailors an exercise program around the hormones they are producing.

"During the times when your estrogen is rising and you are in that first half of your cycle, you'll carry out strong exercises in the gym, such as leg press, squat, knee extension, things that actually really build that muscle back," says O’Loughlin.

She says the stigma around periods in sports medicine settings became clear when speaking with health professionals and patients in pre-trial focus groups.

"We had people who had come through medical school and hadn't read much about the menstrual cycle at all."

Pulse netball player Erikana Pedersen, who knows first-hand the devastation of a serious knee injury, says she wasn’t aware her menstrual cycle could be used to help her recover.

"It is quite a taboo topic I think and something we as athletes don't really speak about often."

Four minutes into the 2019 netball season, the then Tactix mid-courter was hit with a netballer's nightmare. She had ruptured her ACL.

"It was devastating that my season had just ended like that," she says, reflecting on the injury.

Pedersen is hopeful this new research will help others who are facing recovery.

Participants are still being recruited to take part in the trial before the end of the year, and results from the study are set to be published in 2023.

More information on taking part in the trial can be found here.