Preventing ACL Injuries in Girls

March 11th, 2010 | Sources: Washington Post

Since Michael Sokolove’s “Warrior Girls” brought the matter public attention, many people know that young women athletes are in the midst of an epidemic of knee injuries, including the most dreaded of them all: a tear of the  anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL). In fact girls are three to eight times more likely than boys to sustain that injury.

soccerThis stunningly high ratio says the issue goes beyond the fact that girls participate in competitive sports as much as boys do. Given only that, the ratio should be even. The real problem, it turns out, has to do with anatomical and physiological differences between girls and boys.

Girls have thinner ACLs for example. And their pelvises are wider, which has the effect of putting more stress on the knee ligaments during both normal and recreational activities. The anatomy of their femurs (the large, upper leg bone) favors fraying of the ACL. And as well, some female reproductive hormones make their ACLs more lax. 

The epidemic has spawned a host of workouts and training programs designed to help prevent knee injuries in young female athletes. These programs focus on strengthening muscles like the quadriceps that help support the knee, and the core muscles which help stabilize the body during stops and starts, which are so often the times when ACL injuries occur.

The programs have different time requirements, but a 45 minute session, twice a week is  typical.  Also included in most sessions are tips about landing softly and using multiple joints (ankle, knee, hip) for bracing against falls and the like.

“You can’t make an ACL bigger,” Trent Nessler, executive director of Baptist Sports Medicine in Nashville told the Washington Post. “So what we tend to look at is what factors can you affect through training.”

Nessler asserts that girls who participate in these programs can reduce their risk of knee injuries by up to 88%…and even if he’s half right, that seems like something worth doing.


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