If your daughter plays soccer or basketball, she is 2-8 times more likely to suffer an ACL tear than a boy doing the same sport. Why? ORA Orthopedics Sports Medicine Surgeon Dr. Ryan Dunlay says the thinking on this question has changed.
“The latest research reveals that the major cause for non-contact ACL injuries is the difference in neuromuscular knee motion between female and male athletes during athletic maneuvers,” he says.
“It’s not the anatomical alignment of the female hip as once thought. We don’t think that the shape of the hip or angle of hip/knee contributes to the increase in ACL injuries. Instead, it’s a muscular control issue.”
That is, young female athletes use their quadriceps muscles – the ones on top of the leg – more than their hamstrings, which are located in back. That difference creates different muscle movements and contributes to the problem.
“When female athletes jump, they have less flexion when they land, compared to males,” Dr. Dunlay says. “ACL injuries happen in non-contact situations when there is a hyperextension of the knee in what we call a ‘valgus’ or ‘knock-kneed’ motion. Girls, in particular, are more at risk because they land with less flexion and more of a turned knee.”
What is the ACL?
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is one of the major ligaments that stabilizes the knee. It crosses with the Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) in the middle of the knee.
While the PCL is primarily involved in stopping or starting motions, the ACL helps athletes pivot, jump, and turn quickly.
PCL injuries rarely require surgical intervention, but ACL injuries usually require both reconstructive surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation process.
Preventing an ACL injury
Neuromuscular exercises designed to improve core strength and teach proper landing techniques can reduce the risk of ACL injury.
“Prevention is key,” Dr. Dunlay says. “Focusing on reteaching landing techniques and avoiding hyperextension of the knee can be very successful.”
By retraining young athletes to land correctly to help prevent ACL injuries, parents and coaches can make a lasting difference.