Young Female Athletes Part One: Growth Spurts

February is Young Female Athlete month at Julie Wiebe, PT! I am thrilled to have my friend and colleague Julie Granger of Prism Wellness Center bring her wealth of knowledge and experience working with this population in a 3-blog series!! These are excerpts from her recently published ebook Young Female Athlete’s Playbook .  It is an excellent resource that is dense with need-to-know info if you work with or hang out with young ladies that play sports! I have already passed on to my schools PE teacher, fellow moms of high level tween/teen athletes and now to you! Soak in the info here and then dig deeper by taking advantage of the discount code she has generously offered to my blog followers (info at the end of the blog)! Part one discusses growth spurts and the impact on skeletal and neuromuscular development. Do you know when and where certain injuries are more likely to occur during development? Check it out! 

Growth Spurts: The BEST time to get injured AND fix and prevent injury!

Julie Granger, PT, DPT, SCS

During a growth spurt, a girl’s bones grow fast and her muscles and brain literally often can’t keep up with how fast she is growing. She may become uncoordinated, and parents and coaches may wonder what happened to the perfectly coordinated 9-year-old as their klutzy 13-year-old runs into doors and walls for the 500th time in a week. I really mastered the art of that and BONUS- my parents called me “Bruiser” because of it.

On average, between ages 11-12 girls are growing their fastest, which puts them at the highest risk for injury. Compound this with how much she may be participating in sports and what is expected of her in school and we have a potential problem on our hands.

As parents, coaches, and providers, it is important to understand what is going on during a growth spurt in order to understand how specialization can affect them. It is important to know what is growing and changing when. For example, in kids and teens, their growth plates (physes) allow for bony growth. These structures are very vulnerable when they are open and allowing the particular areas of the bone to grow. Not all physes are open and growing at the same time. Knowing when certain areas are growing and which growth plates exist there is a great knowledge nugget to carry with you when creating both injury prevention programming and also when diagnosing and treating an athlete when she becomes a patient. You can check out this free download for a quick reference chart on growth plate injuries and ages of vulnerability.

So that’s the skeleton. But what about neuromotor development? Perhaps this is the most important and exciting thing to note in the growth spurt.

The Pilates Method Alliance “Pilates 4 Youth” campaign (2014) coined the brilliant phrase the “Magic Window”, which describes a phase from ages 9-13.[i] During this stage, the brain has finished physical growth, tall/linear growth begins & ends, and the neurons and nerves in the brain and spinal cord must adapt & recalibrate to physical growth still occurring. What a beautiful time to intervene (and get injured)!

Myer & colleagues (2011-16) refer to this time as the “neuromuscular spurt.” [ii] [iii] [iv] As the child hits her growth spurt, she is not only susceptible to injury, but her body is literally rewiring (or perhaps wiring for the first time) to learn and solidify complex motor patterns that she will carry with her for the remainder of life. If she specializes early and thus limits her fundamental motor activities, she may pass through the magic window and never truly master certain skills. If she has an injury and does not have the proper rest, recovery, and rehabilitation care (care that involves ensuring she not only regains her former level of function, but also addresses any other areas that may potentially become a problem), this could “magically” lead to problems throughout adolescence and adulthood. Alternatively, this is the BEST time to not only participate in injury prevention exercises, but also participate in rehabilitation to ward off any bad habits.

Every adult in the world can probably attest to the fact that it is way harder to start a sport or a skill later in life, and that ridding oneself of less desirable traits and habits is harder to do after doing them for years and decades. So why not address it when it is the best time to do it?

Early detection and prevention are necessary, and educating girls, coaches, parents, and providers correctly BEFORE growth spurts is KEY.

 Moving forward: what do we do about all of this?

Given that girls are at higher risk for certain injuries and may suffer more than boys following other injuries and illnesses, we hold a great responsibility to keep them safe, moving, healthy and happy as they progress in through childhood and adolescence.

So what is the solution? There probably is not a panacea for this, but I truly believe it begins with simply starting the conversation.

For any girl, puberty and adolescence can be either a perfect opportunity or a perfect storm. She may get hurt or sick. With all that could go wrong, it could all become a grim picture. Alternatively, we could look at it is an AMAZING OPPORTUNITY to steer our girls on the most inspirational, empowered paths into adolescence and adulthood. Her success during this amazing time of opportunity depends on who is serving her, teaching her, and leading her, and it starts at her pediatric/adolescent well visits, with school nurses, coaches, parents, athletic trainers, health coaches, dieticians, physical therapists, at her pre-participation exams, and in her health education in school.

Wanna start a conversation of your own? Get educated! Julie Granger has created an awesome resource to help you learn more about supporting girls in sports. Check out the Young Female Athlete’s Playbook, which is now online and ready for download! For being a valued reader here at Julie Wiebe, PT, you can use the coupon code GIRL20 for an additional 20% off all products in a one-time PRISM Wellness Center Store purchase!

You can also connect with Dr. Julie Granger on her website/blog, facebook and instagram (@prismwellnesscenter) to check out daily updates pertaining to women & girls’ health, or request to join her private Facebook community, PRISM STRONGirls to keep the conversation going!


[i] Corey-Zopich C, Howard B & Ickes DM. 2014. Pilates for Children and Adolescents. Edinburgh, UK: Handspring Publishing. Pages 21-25.

[ii]Myer GD, Jayanthi N, DiFiori JP, et al. Sports Specialization, Part II: Alternative Solutions to Early Sport Specialization in Youth Athletes. Sports Health. 2016; 8(1): 65-73.

[iii]Myer GD, Kushner Am, Faigenbaum AD, Kiefer A et al. Training the developing brain, part 1: cognitive developmental considerations for training youth. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2013; 12: 304-310.

[iv]Myer GD, Faigenbaum AD, Ford KR, Best TM, Bergeron MF, Hewett TE. When to initiate integrative neuromuscular training to reduce sports-related injuries and enhance health in youth? Curr Sports Med Rep. May-Jun 2011;10(3):155-166.

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