Injuries are part of playing sports, no matter how old you are. From toddlers playing on a field for the first time to a 40-year-old “weekend warrior” who pulls a hamstring, anyone can fall victim to an injury on the field. They vary in severity and long-term repercussions. There’s an obvious difference between skinning a knee and a concussion.
One disturbingly increasing trend in youth sports is the rate of knee injuries in girls. When female overuse their knees and damage their ligaments via improper stretching techniques, they risk doing lasting or permanent damage to their bodies, both hindering them from playing sports and potentially causing lifelong problems with mobility and pain.
It’s been scientifically proven that female athletes are more prone to knee injuries. In fact, women in general are more likely to injure this area of their body; one in 10 female college athletes has a major knee injury.
This seems odd – the knee isn’t a part of the body that’s typically associated as being different from one sex to the other. In this case, why do women get the shorter end of the stick?
The anterior cruciate ligament, more commonly known as the ACL, is a ligament that women are incredibly prone to tearing. It is one of 4 ligaments stabilizing the knee. Any sports that involve sudden starting and stopping, sudden leg movement are jumping can bring about increased chances for rupturing or tearing this important body part, leading to surgery and the end of a female player’s season.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, girls are at least twice as likely to injure their ACLs, playing the same sport.
The reason for this large increase is partly due to the female anatomy. Women have wider set hips than men, and this is something that is even amplified for girls going through puberty, as their muscles fail to grow in proportion to their bodies and their ligaments stiffen. The way women are built puts added pressure on their knee joints, making it easier for injuries to occur.
Other factors include stance and muscle development. Female athletes often lock their legs or keep them straight when landing from a jump, which adds unneeded stress to their ACL. Many female players also develop their quadriceps muscles without equally strengthening their hamstrings, which puts more pressure on their ACLs.
The Good News
Some factors involved in this issue can’t be changed – we can’t magically make a female youth sports athlete’s hips narrower than her male counterparts.
We can, however, train girl athletes in a way that supports their ACL instead of leaving it as an exposed weakness. One simple solution is to better train girls in proper jumping and movement techniques.
The other part of the solution is to improve female muscle training to include a more evenly dispersed leg routine. Instead of focusing on calves and quads only, more female athletes need to give their hamstring muscles a workout. This can be done through proper stretches, weight training and practicing proper jumping techniques.
Proper stretching also helps reduce injuries, as can agility training and balance exercises (learning to use all muscles to stabilize on an unstable landing or surface).