On the field she's fierce. A Chicago Force female football player.
In great shape -- one day Natalie Malasonos noticed a strange pain.
Natalie Malasanos: "About mid February I noticed something with my left hip, maybe I didn't stretch enough. I kind of realized it was something more serious, it wasn't getting better. It was getting worse. There would be tears in my eyes because of the pain. It was noticeable."
She plays safety -- strong and fast -- but she doesn't remember a hit that broke a bone. Even an x-ray didn't find one. Her doctor ordered an MRI.
Dr. Kathy Weber: "This is the beginning of a stress fracture and there is some involvement of the muscle as well."
Dr. Kathy Weber, Sports Medicine Physician, Rush University Medical Center: "They come in with an injury. It's usually a stress fracture and my radar goes up and I say, 'Hmmm, something is going on here.' And I get a Dexa scan or a bone scan and it usually shows they are osteopenic."
Osteopenia is the pre-cursor to osteoporosis -- a disease women are plagued with after menopause where the bones break down.
Natalie Malasanos: "At the Dexa scan they told me my bones are the same as a 57 year old."
More and more, sports medicine doctor Kathy Weber is seeing younger women and girls, in one case, an entire team of girls, in crisis.
Dr. Weber: "This isn't right. These kids should be having strong bones at this age. Instead of when we are building our bone banks when we are young, teenagers, young adults, we are now actually seeing a trend toward loss."
Low Vitamin D, poor nutrition and over training may be to blame. The combination can alter the menstrual cycle.
Dr. Weber: "I'll refer them to a gynecologist. There are some individuals who are putting young athletes on birth control. That is still controversial, but the thought is you're replacing estrogen and having a positive effect on the bone."
Natalie's going a different route ... she's training herself to eat right to protect her body, taking calcium and Vitamin D and taking breaks to allow for recovery time. She's hoping that'll give her the safety to get back in the game.
NatalieIf Malasanos: "If my bones allow me to, I'll be back out there."
Doctors aren't sure if they can reverse the effects once they've begun -- so the key is to spot the deficit early -- and prevent the problem in the first place.
If you'd like to contact Dr. Kathy Weber, check out www.rush.edu.
For more health news and information, check out www.healthkey.com.