There has been a dramatic increase in recent years of female athletes suffering from knee injuries. In Australia, the AFLW (Australian rules Football League for Women) saw 12 ACL injuries last season.
It is tempting to assume that this rise in knee injuries is mostly due to the increased media coverage that women’s sport is seeing. And that certainly goes some way to explain why we’re hearing about them.
But new research has shown that AFLW players are nine times more likely to suffer a knee injury than men. So this suggests that there is a biological cause.
One major reason put forward by medical experts for this gender imbalance when it comes to knee injuries, is the anatomical difference between men and women.
And the anatomical differences that cause the problem are not in the knees themselves, but in the pelvis and hips.
The female pelvis is designed for childbirth. This means the cavity is shallower and wider than in the male pelvis, and it tilts forward. This forward tilt impacts on the angle of the hip joint, which in turn can cause the femur (thigh bone) to be angled inwards.
As a result, unless the muscles in the core, hips and thighs are extremely strong, there is a tendency for the knees to be angled slightly inwards, which increases the risk of anterior knee injuries.
The other reason cited – although in fact it does tie in with the first – is hormonal. When boys go through puberty, they experience a rush of the hormone testosterone. This allows them to build muscle quickly.
The skeletal structure also changes during puberty, both for boys and girls. The skeleton becomes taller and denser, and an influx of testosterone allows boys’ bodies to cope with that. This means that the muscular structure is able to support the skeleton.
Women do have a small amount of testosterone in their system, but not enough to have a significant impact on their muscles. So while their skeleton increases in density and height, they don’t have the same muscular structure to support it.
How can women avoid ACL injuries
The key to avoiding knee injuries is to increase the strength of the hip and thigh muscles. Any weakness in these muscles will correspond to problems in the knee. This includes anterior knee pain or patellofemoral syndrome as well as ACL tears.
In Australia, as a result of this recent research, the AFLW has instigated a ‘prep to play’ regime. This focuses on the implementation of specific strengthening exercises for the hip and thigh muscles.
Another way to help protect your knees from injury is to practise ‘balance training’ – this essentially means trying to balance on one leg on progressively less stable surfaces. This helps to build up the muscles around the hip, knee and ankle.
Mr Shah Punwar is highly experienced in treating ACL tears and has an excellent track record. He submits all his ACL cases to the National Ligament Register, allowing long term follow-up and monitoring of outcomes.
Surgery to repair an ACL tear can help you to return to your previous athletic form, but expect a structured rehabilitation programme to prevent re-injury. Also, if you are returning to contact sports, expect to be on the bench for at least nine months post-surgery.