There are various circumstances for which women who practice sports are more at risk of serious damage to their knees. We tell you what are the most important factors.
Until relatively recently, women’s participation in high-impact sports activities was significantly less than that of men. This made the statistics on sports performance, injuries, training modalities … much scarcer than theirs. However, the exponential increase in women who play sports at all levels and their increasing incorporation into sports such as soccer, has allowed expanding research and delving into the differences between one gender and another in different facets related to the practice of exercise.
With regard to injuries, statistics suggest that there is a series of damages to which they are more prone. Among all these damages, knee injuries stand out. Physiological, hormonal and anatomical determining factors make this difference. In fact, it is estimated that females have up to four times the risk of knee injury than males. Why does this happen?
The woman’s anatomy is conceived in anticipation of a possible pregnancy and vaginal delivery. In this way, the width of the hips is greater than that of the male. This difference facilitates the development and growth of the baby during pregnancy and labor once it is time to give birth. However, this greater width of the pelvis results in an alteration of the angles of the bones that converge at the knee joint (tibia, fibula, femur and patella). This forced alignment of the knee joint with respect to the hip makes it more vulnerable to injury.
On the other hand, the notch in which the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is lodged, the ligament that contributes the most to giving stability to the knee, is narrower in women, so they are more prone to rupture. A broken ACL makes the knee joint more unstable, which in turn accelerates joint wear and favors the appearance of premature osteoarthritis.
Estrogens, the quintessential female hormones, have a direct influence on tissue laxity. This makes women, as a rule, more flexible than men, making them more suitable for certain sports, but also makes them an easy target for knee injuries, as the tendons and ligaments in charge of stabilizing the knee and hold it in critical moments such as the race, the turns, the jumps … are more lax and perform this function worse.
On the other hand, there are studies that show that the menstrual cycle causes changes in the proliferation and synthesis of collagen and fibroblasts, two essential compounds to give consistency, strength and tone to tissues. Likewise, oral contraceptives and the preovulatory phase also have repercussions on muscle laxity, which increases the risk of injury.
As a general rule, women have less muscle tone due to a mere physiological issue. This fact is especially relevant when it comes to the hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteus medius, since these muscles are responsible for giving stability to the knee and keeping it aligned with the hip and the rest of the trunk. Having them less toned makes the female knee more unstable and also more exposed to twisting and forced movements that can end in injury.
How can the ballast of these circumstances be counteracted? Specialists in Sports Medicine and sports training are committed to working on proprioception to improve ergonomics, running, jumping, etc., doing biomechanical studies to improve the footprint and recommending the best footwear and specific insoles for each woman and designing plans for training that strengthen the muscles involved in the stability and protection of the knee, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.