Knee Injuries: More Common in Women?

knee pain women Knee Injuries: More Common in Women?

Knee injuries are no laughing matter; 55% of all sports related injuries are knee injuries. But who is at greatest risk for knee injuries when it comes to sports? It turns out that women are 4-6 times more likely to suffer a sports related injury than their male counterparts in the same sport. Out of all sports related injuries, the most common injuries among female athletes are anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries.

The reasons for women having an increased risk of knee injury has nothing to do with strength or ability; it comes down to genetics and anatomical factors, form, and training. Simply put, women are built differently than men and some of those differences put added pressure on their knee joints. Thankfully, the factors contributing to the increase in injuries have been widely researched and while genetics can’t be changed, form corrections and training programs have been proven to prevent knee injuries in women’s sports.

Within the sports community, female athletes who play basketball and soccer are somewhere between 2-10 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury compared with male athletes, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. The reason for the high rate of ACL injuries within these particular sports can be attributed to that most ACL injuries—whether in male or female athletes— are caused by non contact mechanisms. These include common movements like landing from a jump or making a lateral pivot while running. But why are women so susceptible to ACL injuries? Let’s take a look at the factors and what can be done to reduce the risk.

Genetic and Anatomical Factors:

ACL Knee Injuries: More Common in Women?

The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the four major ligaments of the knee. It connects the front of the tibia (shinbone) with the back of the femur (thighbone). It helps provide stability to the knee joint.

The strength and use of the surrounding muscle groups, such as quadriceps and hamstrings, have a serious impact on the ACL. When running and jumping, women tend to lead with their quads, whereas male athletes seem to have a better balance between the quads and the hamstring muscles. A balance between quads and hamstrings means the impact is more evenly distributed, thus reducing the pressure on the knee.

Another reason for increased knee pressure is that women have a wider pelvis which creates a larger Q-angle at the knee. This often results in a more “knock-kneed” posture in women, leaving the ACL more vulnerable for injury.

Q Angle 600 Knee Injuries: More Common in Women?

(image via http://blog.footsmart.com)

Additional anatomical factors in ACL tears such as the diameter of the ACL are still being researched.

Some doctors think women are more prone an ACL injury because of the differences in the amount of circulating hormones such as estrogen. Certain hormones give ligaments strength and flexibility. Fluctuations in hormone levels may have some impact on the function of the nerves and muscles and may lead to an increased risk of injury.

Form:

When researchers at the Loyola University Medical Center sought to explain why this increased risk of ACL injuries in women was occurring, they uncovered that poor form when landing a jump contributed to the risk.

“Women tend to land with the knees straighter and feet rotated inwards, compared to men who tend to land with more of a bend in the knee and the feet rotated slightly outward,” says Dr. Patrick McCulloch, an orthopedic surgeon with the Methodist Center for Sports Medicine in Houston who was involved in the research. “This puts the knee in a better position to absorb shock.”

After this discovery, the same researchers spent six weeks correcting these form issues resulted in a reduction in the likelihood of ACL injury by up to 50%.

Prevention Through Training:

As doctors and orthopedic surgeons were seeing an increase in ACL injuries in women, training and conditioning programs were designed to correct problems with form, strengthen knees and surrounding muscles and reduce the risk of injury. FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup and other international soccer tournaments, has designed a warm up program specifically designed to reduce the rate of ACL injuries in soccer players (male and female).

Teams that perform FIFA 11+  program at least twice a week, for 20 minutes at time, experience 30-50% fewer injured players, according to FIFA.

In addition, the Sports Physical Therapy department at Massachusetts General Hospital have put together a detailed sports conditioning program to help increase knee strength and reduce knee injuries specifically in female athletes through active warm-up, stretching, strengthening exercises, plyometric drills, and agility drills.

While ACL injuries for female athletes were reaching epidemic proportions, through understanding the problems causing the increase and creating prevention programs based on research, the rate of these injuries is on the decline.

Sources:

http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/a_females_aching_knees/

http://www.prevention.com/fitness/strength-training/risk-knee-injury-increases-women

http://loyolamedicine.org/newswire/features/sports-medicine-surgeon-urges-girls-soccer-teams-try-acl-tear-prevention-drills

http://wcbe.org/post/epidemic-knee-injuries-young-female-athletes

http://www.aaos.org/news/aaosnow/nov10/research3.asp

http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/medicalschool/departments/Orthopaedics/clinicalservices/sportsmed/Documents/WISH_SPORTSMED_Female%20Knee%20Injuries%20and%20ACL.pdf

http://www.athletestrengthandperformance.com/acl-anatomy-gender-disparity/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2465242/

http://www.atipt.com/news-media/blog/acl-tears-and-knee-pain-more-common-women-activity

How Common is Knee Pain?

Knee pain is one of the most common ailments amongst athletes and non-athletes alike.  People of all ages are also affected by knee pain.  The reason for the prevalence of knee pain is because the knee supports most of the body’s weight and is involved with both daily activities and movement during sports.

Knee pain is typically caused by:

  • knee injuries
  • overuse
  • age
  • natural wear and tear

 

It’s understandable that activities and sports that involve sharp turns, lifting weights and the like would cause strain on the knee. However, many athletes do not know that running is a very stressful activity on the knee, which is why sports that involve running also tend to have higher risk of knee pain and knee injuries.  This can be during both contact (such as football) and non-contact (such as jogging) sports.

People in professions that involve a lot of lifting, walking or kneeling may also feel the effects of knee pain.  A great example of this is in mail carriers, a profession widely known to be hard on the knees.  Other types of overuse activities such as gardening and recreational activities like hiking can also stress the knee.

As mentioned above, the natural wear and tear of the knee from age and use can also lead to knee pain, which contributes to the widespread presence of knee pain.  Other physical factors, such as very tall individuals, may also be a cause of knee pain.

As you can see, there are many ways that all types of people may experience knee pain.  To minimize your risk of knee pain (or to reduce knee pain you’re already feeling), check out our knee braces and supports.  You can also read our Knee Pain and Injury Guide for more information on knee injuries and knee pain.

Common Knee Injuries: Meniscus Tears

The knee joint is comprised of many structures, one of which is the C-shaped piece of cartilage known as the meniscus. The meniscus cushions the outer and inner edges of the knee and helps stabilize the knee joint.

Did you know that one of the most common injuries in the knee is a meniscus tear?

That’s because meniscus tears can occur in all types of people, whether they’re young, old, athletic, or not very active at all. Many meniscus tears are caused by the twisting and turning motions during sports. Others can be caused by something as simple as tripping while running uphill or by lifting something heavy. It’s important to note that the meniscus tends to wear down and weaken as we age. That can cause meniscus tears and knee pain as patients approach the later stages in life, even if they are not particularly active.

Since the meniscus is so susceptible to injury, it’s often recommended to wear a knee brace for meniscus tears. They can be helpful whether you play sports, have a previous meniscus injury, or if you’re getting up there in age and would like extra support before physical activity. Most people are not educated about the frequency of meniscus tears, so you’re already one step ahead of the pack!

ACL Reconstruction Surgery: 2 Years Post-Op

Holly B. is an active professional in her late twenties who spends her free time playing recreational flag football and league basketball. She shares her experience with us as she explores the world of sports.

It’s been nearly two years since my ACL surgery and I thought it would be helpful for anyone considering ACL repair or who is currently recovering from ACL surgery to share my progress. Well, what I’ve learned is that ACL recovery varies greatly from person to person. From my own experience and opinion, it depends on two factors: your body and your effort.

Honestly, I haven’t done too much in terms of getting back into sports since my ACL reconstruction surgery. Real life took over – work and parenting – so I didn’t have as much time to devote to recreational sports. Ideally I think I would continue strengthening the muscle area around my knee before returning to sports to help stabilize the joint. I’d also feel more comfortable returning to sports with an ACL knee brace. It would help give me peace of mind that I’m lowering my risk of re-injury and it would provide support to my knee.

Could I start playing basketball and football again? Yes, I think so with some training. Overall I’ve healed up nicely – I’d say that my body rebounded well, but I haven’t put any effort into getting back into physical activity. That’s probably the only thing that slowed my progress.

Here’s some situations from my friends who have had ACL surgery:

  • Man in his early 20s – He put lots of effort into his ACL recovery in order to return to playing sports. He now wears an ACL knee brace and was back to playing sports within his first year. In fact, he started light running again around four months post-op… I’m not sure his doctor would have liked that!
  • Woman around my age in her late 20s – She tore her ACL around the same time I did, and she’s started working out consistently and is fairly active. Her recovery was slower… I think my body rebounded more quickly, but that she put more effort into physical therapy.
  • Woman in her early 40s – I actually met her in my basketball league and knew she had tore it at some point because she was wearing an ACL knee brace. She had some amazing movement at point guard. I wouldn’t have guessed her age based on how she was moving. I found out later it had only been a few years since her tear… and she actually tore hers playing flag football in the same recreational league that I participated in!

So as you can see, ACL tear recovery can have a wide spectrum of results. I think for most people, if you put the effort toward physical therapy and returning to sports, that you’ll be back before you know it! Follow your doctors’ guidelines and you’ll be just fine.

Common Marathon Running Knee Injuries

In a recent blog post, we reported about the increased participation in marathon running and how the number of marathon injuries are also increasing as a result. These injuries occur because of the impact that your joints – in particular the knee – absorb during running.

Here are some common marathon knee injuries that may occur from excessive running:

Runner’s Knee (also known as chondromalacia or patellofemoral pain) – This condition describes irritation under the kneecap. The cartilage under the kneecap usually glides smoothly as the joint bends, but if it rubs against one side of the joint during movement, it can cause pain. Repetitive movement, most often associated with running, can increase your risk of runner’s knee – though this condition can be observed in non-runners as well. (Got runner’s knee or want to help prevent it? Check out knee braces for runner’s knee.)

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (also known as ITBS) – The iliotibial band is a long, thick mass of tissue that goes from the hip to the outside of the shin bone. It works with your thigh muscles to stabilize the knee. During repetitive movement, such as from marathon running, the iliotibial band may become irritated. This pain can sideline a runner so it’s best to take measures to prevent ITBS from occurring by having proper footwear. (Got Iliotibial Band Syndrome or want to help prevent it? Check out knee braces for ITBS.)

Patellar Tendonitis (also known as jumper’s knee) – This type of injury is an inflammation of the tendons around the knee joint. Though knee tendonitis is usually a stress injury seen with repetitive jumping, it’s also frequently seen in runners. Marathon runners who are often running on hard pavement are at an increased risk. (Got knee tendonitis or want to help prevent it? Check out the DonJoy Cross Strap, one of the best knee braces to alleviate patellar tendonitis pain and to help prevent occurrence.)

If you’re a marathon runner, take steps to protect your knee joints. Speak with your doctor at the first sign of knee pain to get the appropriate treatment for your injury.