Many women are following the recommended guidelines to be active with adults targeting to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week. However, along with exercise, women should also consider adding some preventive measures to reduce their risk of getting injured.
Researchers have found out that Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries occur with a four to six-fold greater incidence in female compared to male athletes playing the same high-risk sports. What is more interesting is that these injuries often occur via a non-contact mechanism!
A combination of factors contributes to this higher incidence of knee injuries among female athletes. Here’s why.
Unfortunately, women tend to have a wider pelvis as we are required to carry and give birth to children. This creates a larger Q-angle at the knee, resulting in a more “knock-kneed” posture.
(image via http://blog.footsmart.com)
However, a greater inward rotation of the thigh bones from the hip to the knee can cause added stress on the joints. This in turn leaves the ACL more vulnerable for injury.
It is suggested that women tend to have an imbalance in the strength ratio between their quadricep muscle and their hamstring muscle. Female athletes tend to develop strong quadriceps and relatively weak hamstrings – a dangerous imbalance of power.
As such, a female athlete is more likely to use her quadriceps to decelerate from a sprint, causing instability in the knee. A male athlete on the other hand, is more likely to slow down using his hamstrings to absorb the change in speed. While this may sound like just a slight difference, it does in actual fact, provide an inherent protection to the ligaments of the knee.
Differences in muscle activation may make it more likely that women will suffer tears to the ACL and develop chronic knee pain from certain activities.
Both men and women produce the hormone Oestrogen but women produce it in greater quantities to help regulate their reproductive functions. However, higher Oestrogen levels are associated with changes in the formation of fibroblasts, causing water retention in the soft tissues within the knee.
The effects of Oestrogen can weaken the ligaments and make them more prone to stretching or tearing. With that being said, women are more likely to have a knee injury when their Oestrogen levels are at the highest during ovulation. Should we blame the hormones for everything?
A woman cannot do much about her anatomy or hormones, but other factors are within our control.
Both female and male athletes can reduce their risk of ACL injuries by performing training drills that require balance, power and agility. Adding plyometric exercises such as jumping can help to improve neuromuscular conditioning and muscular reactions too. Many sports professionals, especially female athletes, now routinely undergo an ACL conditioning program to prevent injuries.
We have also seen numerous cases where athletes invite trouble by keeping their legs straight when they jump, pivot, or land. This posture requires the knee to absorb a shock equal to four times your body weight. With bent knees, the force drops by 25%! Learning how to bend your knees when landing from a jump can provide tremendous protection.
Each year, millions of women see their doctors for knee pain, often caused by activities that are not related to sports, such as going up a flight of stairs or lifting boxes. This suggests that you don’t have to be a weekend warrior to end up with a serious knee problem.
The good news, however, is that many of these injuries are preventable with proper neuromuscular training. The risk of ACL injury may be reduced through strength and conditioning training programs designed to increase balance and flexibility, and improve muscular strength and endurance.
Our physiotherapists can help you to enjoy the benefits of exercise and minimise your risk of injury with a personalised training program.
Contact us now to find out what your options are.
This post has been written by Goh Yun Jie.