ACL Tears 4-6 Times More Common in Female Athletes
Historically, ACL injuries are most often associated with male-dominated sports – specifically football, hockey and pro basketball. But as it turns out, statistics tell a different story: Recent studies show female athletes are actually four to six times more likely to have an ACL tear compared to male athletes. The big question is, why?
Women and ACL Injuries
Several studies have been conducted to try to determine why women are more likely to experience ACL injuries compared to their male counterparts. While there’s no definitive answer, it seems likely multiple factors play a role.
- Anatomical differences: First, female knees tend to turn more toward the midline, which means when they land after jumping, the stress on the joint – and specifically, the ACL – tends to be “uneven,” increasing the risk of injury. Second, the groove or “notch” that guides the ligament as it passes through the joint tends to be smaller among women, and cadaver studies have shown the ACL itself is thinner, which means it also may be more fragile.
- Neuromuscular differences: Women are less able to stiffen their knees and “brace” for impact, probably due to differences in how the nerves and muscles communicate. That means the knees of female athletes tend to be more “bent” and less rigid when landing, making them more prone to injury.
- Hormonal differences: Fluctuations in the levels of estrogen and other hormones, especially during ovulation, also may contribute to the mechanism of ACL injuries, according to some researchers. Increasing levels of hormones may cause temporary changes in ligament strength, making them more prone to injury.
- Performance (biomechanical) differences: While male athletes primarily use their hamstring muscles for pivoting and changing speed, research indicates female athletes tend to rely more on the quadriceps muscles, placing added pressure on the knee joint. Other studies show women are more likely to land flat on the soles of their feet, while male athletes tend to land on the balls of their feet, which helps reduce strain on the knee joints.
Treating (and Preventing) ACL Injuries
While researchers continue to explore the causes of increased ACL injuries in female athletes, results of current studies suggest improvements in training routines might be very effective in preventing many ACL injuries in the first place. Getting prompt medical care at the first indication of pain or other symptoms remains one of the most important things you can do to prevent a knee injury from becoming worse.
If you’re having knee pain, joint instability or other symptoms, one of the worst things you can do is ignore it. As a leading provider of state-of-the-art knee treatments for patients in Northern Illinois, Rockford, Algonquin, Crystal Lake, McHenry, Elgin and Huntley, Dr. Van Thiel is skilled in providing individualized care based on each patient’s unique needs so they can enjoy the best outcome possible. To learn more about knee pain causes and treatments, call Ortho Illinois at 815-398-9491 and schedule your consultation and evaluation today.
- The female ACL: Why is it more prone to injury?