To start a quick overview of the role of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the body and why it is important to athletes. The cruciate ligaments in the knee form an X the ACL starts in the front of the knee while the PCL starts in the back, together they prevent back and forth movement of the knee. ACL sprains can typically without contact. A quick deceleration, hyper-extension and typically with a change of direction.
So if we all have ACL why are female athletes more prone to suffer an injury. There are both intrinsic and extrinsic factors.
Intrinsic factors include:
Large Q Angle
Q angle is the angle formed by a line drawn from the ASIS to the central patella and a second line drawn from the central patella to the tibial tubercle. In females the average angle is 17 degrees compared to males at 14 degrees. The increase in this angle puts more stress on the structures of the knee and comes from females typically having wider hips.
The alignment of the femur onto the tibia can predispose females to hyper-extension of the knee putting them in a position that is already causing stress on the ACL. Any further extension pushes the ligament beyond its tensile strength.
There are studies showing that joint laxity increases during the pre-ovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle. The sex hormones estradiol, estriol, and progesterone all rise in this stage causing an increased laxity in the joint.
Females have a tendancy to have a low hamstring to quad strength ratio, meaning their quadriceps are stronger than their hamstrings.
The type of shoes and surface playing on can increase the likely hood of an ACL injury. The proper type of footing is required. Wearing outdoor soccer cleats during indoor season will more than likely place a female in danger of suffering an ACL sprain. This is caused by the cleat getting caught on the playing surface causing torsion of the knee.
This is the body knowing where it is in space. An example of this is being able to touch your finger to your nose.
Sport Specific Skills
Having the appropriate skills needed to compete at the given level of competition goes along way towards injury prevention.
The use of ACL prevention programs has shown to decrease injuries up to 88%. These programs typically are around 15-20 minutes long. They will consist of a dynamic warm up, the use of plyometrics and propioceptive exercises. These programs can be used as your teams warm up. The strength portion focuses not only on the lower leg but strengthening the core as well.
Females are 2 - 10 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury compared to their male counterparts. Intrinsic factors can not be changed, however extrinsic factors such as strength, propioception, and the type of shoes being worn can be dealt with either by implementing an ACL prevention program or by being aware what shoes are appropriate to the surface that participation is occurring on.
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References used for this post:
William Romani, Jim Patrie, Leigh Ann Curl, and Jodi Anne Flaws. Journal of Women's Health. April 2003, 12(3): 287-298. doi:10.1089/154099903321667627
Clin J Sport Med. 2009 Jan;19(1):3-8. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e318190bddb.
Mandelbaum BR1, Silvers HJ, Watanabe DS, Knarr JF, Thomas SD, Griffin LY, Kirkendall DT, Garrett W Jr.Am J Sports Med. 2005 Jul;33(7):1003-10. Epub 2005 May 11.
Dr. Connie Lebrun, Considerations for the Female Child Athlete