ACL Injuries- Why You Are at Greater Risk
It’s good to be a woman in sports right now. With powerhouses like Simone Biles bringing home five Olympic medals and Serena Williams with 22 Grand Slams under her belt, women are proving their capabilities as athletes, and demanding to be treated as such. And it’s not only high-profile athletes who are shining; high school and college sports are seeing increased participation numbers among women as well. However, with this surge of female athletes also comes an increase in the number of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. According to Robert McAlindon, M.D., female athletes have four to ten times more ACL injuries than male athletes. While the exact reasons for the disparity in injuries remains unclear, some theorize that differences in the anatomy and conditioning of female athletes could be to blame. What differences? Keep reading – I’ll tell you all about them!
Intercondylar Notch Probs
Intercond-what? All you need to know is that this little notch lies between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone), and houses the ACL, which connects the two bones and provides stability to the knee. Women have a smaller notch than men, which means ACL movement is limited. Twisting and hyperextension movements can pinch the ligament, presenting a greater risk for injury.
In the human anatomy, the femur meets the tibia at something called the Q angle. Because women have a wider pelvis than men (nature’s way of equipping our bodies for birthin’ babies), our Q angle is greater. This means more pressure is concentrated on the ACL, which poses an injury risk.
Loosey Goosey Muscles
During “that time of the month,” we may think our hormones only exist to make us eat our weight in Ben & Jerry’s and yell at our loved ones for no reason. However, our hormones also help keep our muscles, tendons, and ligaments loose and flexible, which can help prevent injury – to everything but the ACL. If our muscles and ligaments around the knee are so loose that they cannot absorb the stresses from physical activity, that impact will be directly transferred to the ACL, which – you guessed it – makes it prone to an injury.
Dr. McAlindon also asserts that women have less muscle strength in proportion to bone size than men. It has nothing to do with how much we lift (or don’t lift); it’s anatomy, baby. It’s this difference in anatomy that causes women to rely more on the ACL to help keep the knee in place. Unfortunately, there are times when the ACL can’t cope with all that extra responsibility, and sprains.
Level of Conditioning
Some ACL injuries in female athletes could simply be attributed to playing sports later in life. When an athlete starts playing a sport as a young child, her muscle coordination and reflexes develop early so that when she starts playing competitively, they are better prepared to keep the knee stable. However, if an athlete doesn’t start playing competitively until later in life, her muscles, coordination, and reflexes are still in development and not at the level at which they need to be in order to prevent ACL injury.
Just because women are more at risk than men for ACL injuries doesn’t mean they should hang up the towel when it comes to sports. Taking preventative measures, such as stretching and eating a well-balanced diet, can help female athletes prevent injury and perform at their peak, so that when the Olympics eventually come calling, they’ll be ready and able to answer.
Game on, ladies!