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Women in Sports

Like never before, young athletes are participating in organized youth sports leagues of all kinds. If you are a parent spending more time around sports you have probably become very familiar with the injuries associated with your kids’ game. If their game is one of the cutting sports (basketball, soccer, or volleyball), you may begin noticing that lower extremity injuries are more common and that there are many more injuries associated with the women’s teams than the men’s, especially serious knee injuries. Although these sports generally have a low rate of injury, the ankle and knee are the body parts most often injured.

Injuries Don’t Usually Result From Contact With Another Player

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the major stabilizing ligaments for your the knee. The majority of ACL injuries in sports occurs in the absence of physical contact with other players. These injuries are known as non-contact ACL injuries.

The female athlete involved in cutting sports is 4 to 10 times more likely to sustain a sports-related non-contact ACL injury than male athletes. A prior ACL injury greatly increases the likelihood for a reinjury and when a reinjury does occur, the opposite knee is involved more often than the initial knee. Finally, the ankle and knee have a 4-6 fold greater chance of suffering a reinjury.

The Cost Of A Serious Knee Injury Goes Beyond Dollars!

The price tag for surgery and rehabilitation of an ACL rupture is high: $17,000 to $25,000 per injury. Probably more important though, are the issues that can affect your life including loss of entire seasons of sports participation, loss of scholarship funding, lowered academic performance, long-term disability, chronic knee instability, secondary damage to menisci and a 10-times greater risk of degenerative osteoarthritis of your knee.

Why Women Have More ACL Injuries Than Men

A variety of factors have been explored to account for why women have a greater susceptibility to ACL injuries. There is no conclusive evidence that any environmental, anatomical and hormonal risk factors correlate directly with an increase in ACL injury in women athletes. Therefore, the emphasis has turned to biomechanical risk factors and the use of programs that train proper coordination, balance, mechanics and technique to address potential biomechanical deficits.

Prevention Is The Best Solution

Preventing ACL injuries is paramount. ACL injury reconstruction surgeries are complicated for adolescents and often have poor results. On the other hand, the natural progression of untreated ACL injuries in adolescents is not acceptable. Because of the concerns with treatments ACL injuries are more devastating for adolescents than for adults, and early training for prevention of non-contact ACL injuries in adolescents is important.

Understanding The Mechanics Is Women's Knee Injuries - The Key To Prevention

Understanding injury mechanisms is a key component to preventing non-contact ACL injuries. Mechanically, an ACL injury occurs when excessive force is applied on the ligament.  This typically occurs when a person generates forces at the knee themselves and can occur in a number of ways: sudden deceleration, repeatedly performing landing and pivoting maneuvers, one-step/stop deceleration, cutting movements, sudden change of direction, landing from a jump with inadequate knee and hip flexion (at or near full extension), or a lapse of concentration (resulting from an unanticipated change in the direction of play).

ACL injuries typically occur immediately after landing during a deceleration maneuver combined with a change of direction while the foot is planted firmly on the ground. In this situation the knee is nearly straight, the foot  often rolls in, twisting the lower leg and knee. If the athlete attempts to change direction, the result is an increased twisting at the knee that can strain or rupture the ACL.

Teenage Women are Most Prone to Knee Injury

A study of children 5 to 12 years of age in youth soccer demonstrated that there is no difference with boys and girls for knee injury risk. However, at age 11 the risk factor for knee injuries in girls increases significantly. During this period hanges occur in the girl athlete that increase their risk:  they begin to land with a straighter leg and they loose proper alignment of the lower extremity (knee valgus) at initial foot contact with the ground. The degree of these changes increased with age to the point where women 17 and 18 years of age have the highest ACL injury rate.

Training for Performance Also Reduces Risk of Injuries

Comprehensive training can lead to improvements in athletic performance and biomechanics as well as reduced injury risk in women athletes.  The training processes is relatively similar to a common rationale derived from performance enhancement training and physical rehabilitation for athletes.

Improving Your Technique Is The Answer

Emphasis of training should be on proper technique: Landing softly, increase knee flexion, minimize knee valgus (align the center of knee cap with the first toe);  Improving running technique to include accelerated rounded turns, decelerate with a multi-step stop, and maintain proper knee alignment and knee flexion during cutting maneuvers. Strength conditioning should focus on increasing hamstring, gluteus medius, and hip extension and abduction strength and reactivity.

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