Different Bodies, Different Problems: Knee Injuries in Athletics

Alanna Lynch '17 Contributing Writer 

Our current era is a growing time in women’s sports with help from the media’s booming interest in women’s athletics at the national and collegiate level. Correspondingly, it has caused the number of young women participating in sports at an early age to grow exponentially, but at a possible cost to their health.

Historically, boys have been trained to participate in sports at an early age, while females are not exposed to these necessary early motor skills needed later on for competitive play. With less experience and strength training combined with a greater stress in competitive play, female athletes are at a greater risk for knee injuries.

Knee injuries, especially tears of the anterior cruciate ligament, are becoming more common in female athletes. The National Collegiate Athletic Association collected statistics on their participating female athletes in a number of different sports that shows that women suffered anterior cruciate ligament injuries more often than men, nearly four times as often in basketball, three times as often in gymnastics, and nearly two and a half as often in soccer.

The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments are the ligaments that stabilize the knee and help the knee maintain its ability to rotate. In women, many factors cause the ACL to be more susceptible to injury.  The two top factors include a more narrow femoral notch (the space at the bottom of the femur through which the ACL runs) and a wider Q angle (a measure of the angle between the quadriceps muscle on the front of the thigh and the patellar tendon at the knee angle) due to a wider pelvis shape. Although ACL injuries are the most common, others include patellar tendon and meniscus tears.

When an athlete tears their ACL, 70% of the time it occurs with little to no contact with another athlete. The injury usually happens as a result of a sudden deceleration or landing maneuver with the leg in a vulnerable position. Because the  anterior cruciate ligament is torn, athletes must undergo reconstructive surgery coupled with up to a year of physical therapy or rehab before they are able to get back on the field, court, etc. Despite the extended recovery time, most athletes are able to return to full function as long as they are very diligent with their therapy. Some athletes who return to physical activity are required by their doctors to wear a brace on the knee.

Yet what can be done in future sport preparation that serves to help both male and female athletes from injuring their knees? First, those in sports medicine or those who are central figures in their athlete’s lives need to acknowledge the fact that female athletes’ bodies are different and require specialized training. It is essential to work on strength training and skill work that focuses on not landing with their knees locked as well as working on balance.

In order to gain knowledge in research of the anatomy of the female athlete, there needs to be a realization that this issue will not go away if sports preparation is centered on males. In the growing age of women’s sports, sports medicine needs expansion or female knee injuries are going to keep increasing exponentially.