Earlier in 2015, British tennis player Heather Watson after being defeated in the first round of the Australian Open had referred to “girl things” as the reason for the defeat. According to her, it caused her to experience dizziness, nausea, and fatigue when she tried to play. Annabel Croft, a former tennis player called Watson’s openness “brave” and that “women do suffer in silence on this subject. It has always been a taboo subject.”
Now, Indian cricketer or you can say, fast bowling legend Jhulan Goswami, has also commented on the issue and raised a pertinent question.
Jhulan Goswami speaks about menstrual health
Jhulan is all set to retire after an ODI at Lord’s on September 24. While speaking with former India coach WV Raman on his ‘Wednesdays with WV show’ on YouTube, Jhulan raised a question that was much needed to ask. She stated that “there needs to be scientific research to understand the effects of women’s menstrual cycles on an athlete, particularly in cricket where a player has to be on the field for six hours.”
She stated, “When I was young, I couldn’t even discuss this topic. I would just keep it to myself, not tell coaches, quietly fighting through it. People should research properly, lots of science is there, and if we can find a way to adjust during those menstrual cycles during competition.” (sic)
She further added, “That’s the biggest challenging part for a woman athlete. If it [periods] came during competition time, it was a huge challenge to concentrate on your job – you have to be mentally very strong. At that time, it can happen that you aren’t able to concentrate more, deliver more – and people don’t realise that and start talking ‘arre yaar, isko kya ho gaya? (What happened to her?) But people don’t know the background story. This is the lot of all women athletes around the world and that’s why they are special.” (sic)
While periods have become taboo and celebrities keep on romanticising periods and pregnancy saying that women should enjoy the days of periods, Jhulan Goswami spoke about the most relevant concern and told how it takes great courage to go through hormonal changes and compete.
Jhulan also said, “It’s one thing going through the aches and pains of the body but going through that kind of pain and changes in the body is challenging. During match days it’s tough, it takes a lot of courage to come out of that situation and play for 6 hours on a cricket field is a huge task. You have to give a lot of credit to all the girls going through those challenges. You want to be in a room, getting rest but we can’t do that. We can’t be in bed. It’s an important match, we have to be out there for 6 hours. We can’t give excuses and sit. It’s normal – we accept that, and we prepare that way. You can’t give excuses for that and that’s the beauty for our women athletes,…” (sic)
How menstrual cycle impacts women, especially athletes
During the menstrual cycle, a woman’s body has to go through various changes every month. An egg is released from the ovary and the lining of the uterus thickens (the luteal phase). If the egg is not fertilized before the end of the cycle, the lining of the uterus is shed through the vagina.
Women are also affected by premenstrual syndrome (PMS) leading to experience emotional, behavioural, and physical symptoms. It has been suggested that “around 85% of menstruating women experience at least one symptom of PMS as part of their monthly cycle.”
These symptoms are enough to affect a sportswoman’s performance. Not only cramps but women experience physical symptoms such as joint and muscle pain, headaches, weight gain and low energy levels.
At elite levels of competition, these symptoms can majorly affect the athletes’ performances as in these games, even the smallest margins can prove decisive. Moreover, according to a 2021 study, it was found that “Fluctuations in reproductive hormones can influence tissues such as muscles, tendons and ligaments. The muscle and tendon injury were 88 percent greater during the late follicular period of the menstruation cycle, the time when the brain sends signals to the ovaries to prepare an egg that will be released.”
Research needs to be done
Jhulan, during the interview, also said that “Research is required to see what changes challenges go through and how to mitigate them. Everybody wants to be fresh during competing time. I am happy to see that people are thinking that.” (sic)
Female athletes take oral contraceptive pills and injections to either control when their periods occur or to stop them completely. These medications can however affect water retention and also contain ingredients that are banned.
These medications only add up to the complicated world of high performance sports. Witnessing the challenges and problems faced by athletes during the time of playing, it’s time for researchers to make more efforts in the concerned field. Needless to mention, high quality research is needed to help mitigate the challenges for women athletes.
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