'Suffering in silence': How female athletes deal with periods

The report brings into the spotlight how sports are yet to catch up in accomodating women.
'Suffering in silence': How female athletes deal with periods

The Telegraph recently released a report on the Test match played between the England and Indian women cricket teams at the Bristol County Ground in June this year. The report brought to light that almost half the England team and at least one Indian player were on their periods over the course of the game.

The report brings into the spotlight how sports are yet to catch up in accomodating women. When Tammy Beaumont, an English cricketer, got her periods during the said test match, her first worry was about the traditional all-white attire she is supposed to wear in the entirety of the game.

“I was the opening batter, so I actually did ask the umpire, ‘What’s the rules on a drinks break?’", Beaumont told The Telegraph. “It was a female umpire, so I said, ‘It’s day one’. She said, ‘I get you, it’s no problem, we can cope with that’.'" Over the course of the game, atleast one Indian batter and around half of the English team were on their periods, which leads us to the question- How do women athletes cope with period cramps?

“Many females are clearly suffering in silence"

In 2015, Female Athlete Health Group conducted a research where they spoke to over 1000 female athletes about performance and period pains. More than half of 789 female athletes surveyed (55 per cent) said their menstrual cycle impacts their training and performance. What was surprising was that only less than a quarter of them (22 per cent) sought medical help for it. The group then conducted another survey amongst London Marathon athletes which yielded the result that almost a third of the respondants felt their performance was affected by their periods, and 36 per cent had suffered from heavy menstrual bleeding, known as menorrhagia.

“Many females are clearly suffering in silence, so don’t realise they have a problem or if they do, they deal with it alone,” said Dr Charles Pedlar from St Mary's University to The Telegraph.

Even when it comes to training, female athletes are expected to adhere to the drills and training sessions which have been proven effective in men. "Women have a monthly cycle of hormones, which have powerful effects on our bodily system, emotions and mood," told Dr Emma Ross, co-head of physiology at the English Institute of Sport (EIS), to BBC. "This difference alone has the potential to mean women will adapt to training differently at different points of their cycle."

Paving the way for the future

In order to raise awareness and bring out solutions to these concerns, the EIS launched the SmartHer campaign. The campaign supports athletes during their careers by dealing with topics from periods to urinary incontinence.

Another health group, set up by Tammy Beaumont along with her teammates and the England and Wales Cricket Board, focuses "on closing the body-literacy gap among players in a bid to make marginal gains in performance."

“There is not always the same breadth of research across women’s sport as there is in men’s, so it’s important that we talk to the athletes and tailor our approach to ensure they’re as well supported and provided for as possible,” Dr Thamindu Wedatilake, lead for the women’s health group, said in the report.

Female athletes are prescribed clotting and anti-inflammatory medications like tranexamic acid and mefenamic acid when they have a game during their periods. But even these medications come with their own baggages. Beaumont, for example, had to say no to medication because they normally end up worsing migranes, a symptom many women suffer from during their periods.

On a positive note, athletes are bringing to the forefront mental health issues and menstrual issues- concerns that are still considered taboo. The English women's cricket team's bold move will effectively increase discussions around the subject and hopefully, bring some changes in the sport's rules.

Recently, another bold move was made by Simone Biles, an American gymnast, who dropped out of the Tokyo Olympics citing mental health concerns. This decision was lauded by the international community who praised her for increasing awareness around mental health.

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