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Women's Sports and Orthopedic Injuries

Basketball PlayerMore and more women are playing in fast-paced aggressive sports these days. From basketball to snow skiing to soccer, women are competing and "mixing it up" with the same ferocity as men. However, an unfortunate side effect comes with all of this dynamic, physical play by women: a disproportionate rate of sports injuries for women athletes.

For example, an NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) study of basketball players in the US showed that women are four times more likely to suffer anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries than men. In fact, research shows that in all sports and recreational activities, women suffer ACL tears six to eight times more often than men. The challenge for physicians and researchers is to determine why women are more susceptible to sports injuries than men.

Sports medicine physicians and orthopedists postulate that there are two main reasons why women are more susceptible to ACL tears than men. The first is that when women jump, they put more force on the ligament. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that women tend to rely more on their quadriceps (muscle in the front of the thigh) while men use their hamstrings (muscles on the back of the thigh) in stopping forward movement. Quadriceps and hamstring muscles oppose one another and stabilize the knee when one lands from a jump or makes a running cut or twisting motion. The University of Michigan study concludes that women athletes should place greater emphasis on conditioning and strengthening their hamstrings to take some of the pressure off of the ACL. Others recommend that athletes try to land on two feet and round off turns instead of cutting sharply at high speed.

The second theory on the higher rate of ACL tears in women is that the ACL is smaller and weaker in women and is thus more vulnerable to the sudden stops, rigorous jumping and twists and turns typical in basketball and other court sports like volleyball. Studies have also found linkages between menstrual cycles and knee injuries. For example, during childbirth, the ligament tissue of the pelvis undergoes a dramatic change in strength. More research is being done into the relation of hormonal fluctuations, the strength of ligaments and knee injuries.

Research indicates that a convergence of the above factors lead to women athletes sustaining more ACL injuries than men do. Women who compete in sports and activities prone to injury need to aggressively follow preventive conditioning and training programs to help avoid injury. We encourage women to follow the general links in the Sports and Orthopedic Injuries section of Imaginis to learn more about sports injuries and how they may prevent them.

Updated: June 11, 2008