Knee Injuries in Female Athletes
More than 4 million people seek medical care each year for knee problems. Many of these problems are the result of sports injuries, such as a blow to the knee or sudden movements that strain the knee beyond its normal range of movement. A common one is injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which occurs frequently in soccer, basketball and volleyball.
ACL injuries follow somewhat different patterns for women as opposed to men participating in the same sport. The incidence of ACL injuries among women basketball players is twice that for men, and female soccer players are four times more likely to suffer an ACL tear than their male counterparts, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Studies have identified several risk factors that contribute to a higher incidence of ACL injuries among women athletes. These pertain to the following:
- Jumping: Because women don’t bend their knees as much as men when landing from a jump, the pressure on the knee joint is increased. Learning to land safely is a skill that should be taught to young athletes.
- Running and cutting maneuvers: Women also turn and pivot in a more erect position, which strains the ACL. Learning to crouch and bend at the knees and hips could reduce the stress on the ACL.
- Muscle control techniques: The hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh work with the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh to bend or straighten the leg. Many women athletes use their quadriceps muscles when they are changing direction rapidly. This can put enough force on the shinbone to tear the ACL if the knee isn’t bent enough. By strengthening and using the hamstrings rather than the quadriceps muscles, women can reduce their risk of ACL injury.
Most ACL injuries can be successfully treated, either operatively or non-operatively. An athlete who wishes to return to sports that involve jumping, cutting, and pivoting will probably need surgery to reconstruct the ligament. Outcomes after reconstruction are comparable between men and women, with nearly identical success rates. Most athletes can return to their chosen sport.
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