Army’s gender-free training causes women to drop out

Overuse injuries are the prime cause of woman Army recruits being discharged
on medical grounds

Women recruits to the army are up to eight times more likely to be
discharged with back pain, tendon injuries and stress fractures than their male
counterparts, a study has concluded.

The study was designed to look at whether the army’s decision to introduce
‘gender free’ training in 1998 has had any effect on levels of medical
discharge, particularly of women compared to men.

Under the new policy, all recruits are expected to reach the same level of
physical fitness, stamina and strength irrespective of their gender.

A study of 225 medical discharges from 1997 found 40 per cent of them
related to musculoskeletal injuries, of which half were ‘overuse’ injuries –
stress fractures of the foot, tibia and femur, back pain and Achilles

To compare the situation before and after the policy was introduced, two
intakes of recruits were followed from 1997 to 1998 and 1998 to 1999.

Of 253 medical discharges under the old system, 104 related to overuse
injuries. But when the gender-free programme was introduced, this rose to 421
medical discharges, of which 160 related to overuse injuries.

Among male recruits overuse injury patterns changed little, but female
recruits displayed a far greater tendency to overuse injury when trained under
gender-free principles, said report author Lt Col Ian Gemmel, an Army doctor.

"The proportion of female recruits medically discharged because of an
overuse injury rose from 4.6 per cent to 11.1 per cent, whereas the proportion
of such males remained at under 1.5 per cent," he wrote in the Journal of
the Royal Society of Medicine.

Lt Col Gemmel added: "It is clear that women are experiencing
difficulty with the training in its current format – in short, gender cannot be
ignored and rigid adherence to equal opportunities legislation is not
benefiting the health of female army recruits."

He recommended improving initial selection tests to help reduce injury rates
and for a review of selection tests and training methods to be carried out.

J R Soc Med 2002;95:23-27

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