Exercise-related leg pain in female collegiate athletes: the influence of intrinsic and extrinsic factors

Am J Sports Med. 2006 Sep;34(9):1500-7. doi: 10.1177/0363546506287298. Epub 2006 Apr 24.


Background: Exercise-related leg pain is a common complaint among athletes, but there is little evidence regarding risk factors for this condition in female collegiate athletes.

Purpose: To examine prospectively the effect of selected extrinsic and intrinsic factors on the development of exercise-related leg pain in female collegiate athletes.

Study design: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 2.

Methods: Subjects were 76 female collegiate athletes participating in fall season sports, including cross-country running, field hockey, soccer, and volleyball. Athletes were seen for a pre-season examination that included measures of height, weight, foot pronation, and calf muscle length as well as a questionnaire for disordered eating behaviors. Body mass index was calculated from height and weight (kg/m(2)). Those athletes who developed exercise-related leg pain during the season were seen for follow-up. All athletes who developed the condition and a matched group without such leg pain underwent bone mineral density and body composition testing. Statistical analyses of differences and relationships were conducted.

Results: Of the 76 athletes, 58 (76%) reported a history of exercise-related leg pain, and 20 (26%) reported occurrence of exercise-related leg pain during the season. A history of this condition was strongly associated with its occurrence during the season (odds ratio, 13.2). Exercise-related leg pain was most common among field hockey and cross-country athletes and least common among soccer players. There were no differences between athletes with and without such leg pain regarding age, muscle length, self-reported eating behaviors, body mass index, menstrual function, or bone mineral density. Athletes with exercise-related leg pain had significantly (P < .05) greater navicular drop compared with those without.

Conclusion: Exercise-related leg pain was common among this group of female athletes. The results suggest that there are certain factors, including foot pronation, sport, and a history of this condition, that are associated with an increased risk of exercise-related leg pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Foot / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiopathology*
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pronation / physiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sports / physiology*