Teenage girls are up to 5 times more likely to sustain Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries than boys the same age playing sports. We see this frequently in our gym with many of our mature female clients coming to us with an established history of knee pain and injury. Many have old ACL injuries, often acquired in their teens. Whilst we can definitely help these people improve their knee function, pain, strength and mobility, a better option would have been to help prevent these injuries from occurring in the first place.
Why are girls more likely to suffer knee pain and injury playing sport?
There are a number of factors involved in this including: Anatomical. Girls are more inclined to being “knock-kneed” or bend their knees inward while exercising, running and jumping, all of which increases the stresses on the knees. Neuromuscular. There are differences in how untrained females and males land when jumping and changing directions and decelerating that make girls more prone to ACL injuries. Girls tend to land stiffer and less bent legs, particularly with toes pointed in, increasing load on the ACL. Also girls have relatively poor trunk strength and control, meaning that their upper body bends overs more and loads the knee further when landing or changing direction. Hormonal. Teenage girls have higher estrogen levels compared to boys which makes ligaments more flexible. This helps girls be more flexible in general than boys but this also makes their ligaments not as strong and less able to resist traumatic rupture.
So what can we do to help?
An athlete development program which includes teaching athletic movement patterns from the ground up. People run, play soccer and netball recreationally or competitively but when asked to perform a simple squat or lunge place their body in poor, compromising positions. Teaching athletes from a young age how to move correctly – squat, jump,run, lunge is critical. Building the motor pathways so it becomes automatic that the body moves to maximise athletic performance and minimise injury risk. Training to strengthen the trunk stabilisers (core) in multiple planes is super important. Critical.
Building general physical preparedness (GPP) is the greatest gift we can give to our athletes for any sport and for life. If we can teach people the universal athlete positions for optimal human performance they can carry that capability on the soccer field, netball or basketball court or into running around chasing their dog in the park with a far reduced rick of ACL injury.