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Are Women Athletes More Likely to Tear their ACL?

It is true that we see an increasing number of knee injuries in female athletes, especially in those who participate in basketball, soccer and volleyball. The ACL is one of the four major ligaments of the knee and acts as a stabilizer between the thigh (femur) and the shin (tibia), restraining forward motion of the shin.

Females who perform jumping, cutting and pivoting sports are 3 to 8 times more likely to tear the ACL than their male counterparts. The majority of ACL injuries occur without contact or a direct blow. Athletes often report landing awkwardly and the sensation of the knee giving out with an associated “pop”. When there is significant knee pain and swelling after this type of sports injury, there is a 75% chance the ACL has been torn. 

Females have multiple unique factors that increase their risk for ACL tears. Women have weaker hamstrings relative to their quadriceps muscles, which may affect the knee stability and the stress on the ACL. Other theories include differences in anatomy and hormones. Some studies have indicated that a female’s body mechanics move differently than males. For instance females jump and land with the hip and knee less flexed than males. Research has shown that specialized training programs in female athletes that focus on these factors will significantly reduce the risk of ACL tears. Conditioning and training are the keys to preventing ACL injuries. In general, all athletes should:

  • Always warm up correctly before playing sports or working out – especially stretching the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and hip flexors.
  • Strengthen leg and core muscles with correct techniques.
  • Add speed and flexibility training to your program.
  • Learn proper landing, pivoting and jumping techniques.
  • Cross-train between sports and allow time for rest to avoid overuse injuries.
  • Contact an Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Doctor or Physical Therapist for further assistance.

Dr. Mark Wood is an orthopedist at Wake Orthopaedics who specializes in sports medicine.

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