Elizabeth Matzkin’s Enduring Fight for Female Athletes

Elizabeth Matzkin, MD, is a certified orthopaedic surgeon; team physician for Stonehill College, U.S. Women’s National Soccer, U.S. Paralympics Soccer, and U.S. Women’s National Hockey; Chief of Women’s Sports Medicine at the Brigham; and co-lead of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at Mass General Brigham.

Her spectacular range of achievements and awards represent a life of athleticism, compassion and dedication. She traces her inspiration back to her elementary school days.

“When I first learned about anatomy in the fifth grade, I thought, This is really cool stuff. From then on, it was always what I wanted to do,” said Matzkin.

Matzkin has traveled far both academically and literally — from home in Connecticut to medical school at Tulane in Louisiana, then on to residency at the University of Hawai’i in Honolulu and a fellowship at Duke University in North Carolina. Eventually, Matzkin landed in Boston, first at Tufts University, then at the Brigham, where she was brought on to build what is now a thriving Women’s Sports Medicine program.

Throughout her travels, Matzkin broke through her fair share of glass ceilings. At the University of Hawai’i, Matzkin was the first woman to complete the Orthopaedic Residency Program. At the Brigham, Matzkin has founded a one-of-a-kind Women’s Sports Medicine Program, which boasts an orthopaedic surgery cohort that is 17.6 percent female — 11.6 percent greater than the national average. Dedicated to equalizing care for female and male athletes, Matzkin relentlessly searches for long overdue solutions to health disparities faced by female athletes.

Transforming Care and Improving Outcomes for Female Athletes

“A lot of my research has focused on sex differences in musculoskeletal medicine. There are general differences between female and male athletes, but one we tend to see frequently is Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), also known as the female athlete triad,” said Matzkin.

A patient with RED-S may present to an orthopaedic surgery office with a stress fracture.

“While we can treat the stress fracture itself, its underlying cause often goes untreated,” said Matzkin. “For female athletes, this underlying cause is typically multifactorial, spanning from hormonal imbalance to nutritional imbalance. It then becomes clear that you need a multidisciplinary team of endocrinologists, nutritionists, sports psychologists and physical therapists to build an effective Women’s Sports Medicine Program.”

And at the Brigham, that’s possible. Matzkin has built an interdisciplinary team to support female athletes in their recovery from RED-S, and from other sports injuries, too. Just as RED-S demonstrates the necessity for female-specific treatment programs, so too does anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgery. Female athletes have a 9-times higher incidence of ACL surgery compared to male athletes. Additionally, female athletes are at higher risk of retear, lower chance of returning to sports at the same level, and a ten-fold increase in osteoarthritis of the knee later in life. But why? Matzkin believes these adverse outcomes are a result of female athletes receiving less robust ACL grafts and less psychological support post-operation.

The latest development in Matzkin’s series of research studies on equalizing female athlete care tackles this problem. Matzkin’s recent research suggests a new strategy for improving outcomes for female ACL surgery patients: an all-inside quadrupled semitendinosus technique. This technique requires no big incisions, smaller bone tunnels and the implementation of a more robust graft made by quadrupling hamstring tendons. Their study testing the efficacy of this technique resulted in improved preoperative and postoperative outcomes scores in females up to two years after surgery. Expanding on these benefits, Matzkin’s upcoming research looks at how outcomes may further improve when this technique is paired with collaboration from our sports psychologists.

“We really want to help these athletes return to playing sports,” said Matzkin. “Engaging with a sports psychologist post-operation can help both male and female athletes, but we know our female athletes often experience a greater psychological toll, so supporting them in this way will hopefully make a positive difference and bring us another step closer to equalizing recovery.”

Inspiring the Future of Women’s Sports Medicine

“Right now, 12 percent of orthopaedic surgery residents are women, which is higher than ever before. Over time, I hope that number continues to increase, since I see phenomenal opportunity for women in orthopaedics,” said Matzkin.

For now, Matzkin maintains her drive and inspiration through daily interactions at work and at home. While at work, Matzkin adores each appointment with women and girls alike, hearing their stories and healing their wounds. As heartbreaking as it can be to deliver bad news, Matzkin looks forward to instilling newfound confidence in her patients, assuring them that they can and will return to the field, court and beyond. While at home, Matzkin’s three athletic daughters continue to invigorate her passion for Women’s Sports Medicine. For them, there may be a future of truly equal care and equal outcomes.

“We want to build the world’s best Women’s Sports Medicine Program. With more resources, more scientists and more awareness, I think we’ll be able to do that.”


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5 Responses to “Elizabeth Matzkin’s Enduring Fight for Female Athletes”

  1. Emily Creen

    Have you linked any injuries to iron deficiency? I know a lot of women experience Iron Deficiency was wondering if anemia has a higher risk for specific injuries?

    • Brigham Office of Strategic Communication

      Thanks for your thoughtful qustion! Chronic iron deficiency or anemia can result in decreased delivery of oxygen to the muscles but there are not any studies demonstrating a direct effect on sports medicine injuries.

    • Gary Pegoraro

      Dr Matzkin is pretty great with the guys too !! Anyone who gets Dr Matzkin to Treat their shoulder, knee issues are in the best hands, men, women, boys and girls of any age. I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate what she has done for me!!
      Gary P
      Franklin MA

  2. Rosemary Agostini MD

    Elizabeth Matzkin – Thank you for being a leader and excited to learn about a Women’s Sports Medicine Program at The Brigham.
    I was first Primary Care sports medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic in 1985. I it is important to recognize the shoulders we stand on. The Hospital for Special Surgery had the first Women’s Sports in the US created by Jo Hannefin MD , Lisa Callahan MD and Robyn Stuhr MS. We also need to be clear the Female Athlete Triad is the original work and RED-s copied the work of the Female Athlete Triad as they wanted to include Men. I was one of the group of women that organized the Think tank Meeting in 1992. I am grateful to learn of another Women’s Sports Medicine Clinic at a leading institution in the US.

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