If you lead an active lifestyle, the odds are good that you rely heavily on the largest joints in your body — your knees. Even though all athletes need to safeguard their knees as best they can to stay in the game, women should be aware of the fact that they’re 2-10 times more likely to experience one of the more dreaded sports injuries — a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
As sports medicine and knee specialists, the team here at Ani Orthopaedics understands the enormous workload that your knees undertake when you play sports, and we’re here to help. As part of our efforts, we believe that education is key, which is why we’re focusing on the unique problems that female athletes face when it comes to their knees.
The anatomy of your knee
For all intents and purposes, men and women share much of the same anatomy when it comes to their knees. In basic terms, each of these joints brings together three bones — your patella (kneecap), your femur (thigh bone), and your tibia (shin bone).
Providing stability within your knees are different ligaments, including your:
- ACLs, which keep your femur from sliding backward behind your tibia
- Posterior cruciate ligaments, which keep your femur from sliding forward in front of your tibia
- Medial and lateral ligaments that prevent your femur from sliding sideways
Since both men and women share the same components in their knees, why are women far more prone to ACL injuries? Let’s take a closer look.
The gender gap when it comes to knee health
Women may be more susceptible to ACL injuries for several reasons, including:
Though the basic anatomy of the knee in both men and women is the same, there is one difference that may lend itself to more ACL injuries in women — the depth of the intercondylar notch. This notch is located at the bottom of your femur, and your ACL runs through the opening. In women, the intercondylar notch is smaller, which can constrict the movement of the ligament.
Another difference that affects your knees is the shape of your hips. Women generally have broader hips, which can often force the knees inward.
Women tend to enjoy more flexibility in their knees than men, which places them at greater risk for hyperextension. As well, women don’t have as much muscle mass as men (especially in their legs and buttocks), which means more force may be placed on their knees.
There’s some evidence that female reproductive hormones can play a role in the health of supportive tissues like your ligaments. Since women’s hormone levels fluctuate regularly with their menstrual cycles, women may be more at risk for knee injuries when their hormone levels are low.
Taking steps toward better knee health
Our goal in outlining why women are more prone to ACL injuries is to help female athletes take the steps necessary to safeguard their knees. For example, building more muscle in your hamstrings, quads, and glutes can go a long way toward taking the pressure off the ligaments in your knees.
We’re happy to provide you with more tips for avoiding knee injuries and, should one develop, our team can quickly diagnose and treat the problem so that you can get back in the game as quickly as possible.
If you have more questions about knee injuries or you think you may have developed one, please contact one of our locations in Hazlet, Middletown, or Old Bridge, New Jersey, to schedule an appointment.