Men and women may be created equal, but we’re not built the same—particularly when it comes to our knees. Female athletes are more than likely than men to suffer serious knee injuries, a statistic that varies by sport.
But it’s not just the super-active that are at risk. Each year, roughly 10 million women see their doctors for knee pain, often caused by activities unrelated to sports, such as lifting boxes, going up a flight of stairs or squatting too much while gardening.
Many people think women’s knees are merely smaller versions of men’s knees, but that’s hardly the case. In fact, the anatomy is different—and so is the risk for injury. Understanding those differences can help prevent injuries and keep you going strong
Anatomy of the problem
Studies have shown women are two to eight times more likely than men to have certain kinds of knee problems like ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears, one of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee.
Why the difference? Researchers suspect one of the most likely reasons is because of the way we are built.
It’s in the hips
The anatomical difference between men’s and women’s knees stems from the hip joints. Women tend to have wider hips than men, which results in a different alignment and mechanics of their lower bodies.
Hormones can play a part
Studies have shown a connection between ACL injuries and monthly fluctuations in hormones. Women also have much more estrogen than men. Estrogen may also cause more significant laxity (looseness) in tendons and ligaments, making women more prone to injury.
Women also have less testosterone, an essential hormone for increasing muscle density. Less muscle mass around the knee can lead to instability and a higher chance of tearing a ligament if overstretched.
Posture and form may also play a role in a knee injury. Women tend to run in a more upright position than men, relying more on their quadriceps muscles than hamstrings, which creates an imbalance in knee support.
What can you do to prevent knee injuries?
No matter your age or athletic prowess, there are plenty of ways to minimize your risks of a knee injury. Follow these tips to help age-proof your knees:
Maintain a healthy weight
Overall, the best thing you can do to protect your knees is to live a healthy lifestyle by exercising and keeping your weight in check. Being overweight or obese puts a lot of pressure on your knees.
Wear supportive shoes
The proper shoes and arch supports can help balance your body’s Q-angle and help prevent injury.
Work the front and back muscles
Strengthen your quadriceps and hamstrings so that neither has a more considerable pull on your knee joints than the other.
Perfect your technique
Landing on the balls of your feet instead of flat-footed may help prevent some knee injuries. If you play a sport that involves a lot of jumping or pivoting, such as basketball or tennis, find a coach who can teach you proper techniques for landing and moving correctly.
How to strengthen your legs
Strong hamstrings can keep your knees, legs, back, and hips strong and provide injury protection. Try the following strengthening exercises:
Prone hamstring curls
Anchor the ends of a resistance band to a sturdy object. Lie face down. Draw your lower legs upward.
- Place the band around one heel and flex your ankle.
- Bend your knee to pull your heel toward your butt, keeping your thighs and hips on the mat.
- Stop when you can’t pull any further. Return to starting position.
- Complete 12 to 15 reps.
When you land from a jump, keep it soft. Keep your knees bent and your hips straight. Come down on the balls of your feet and slowly roll back to the heel.
Hopping over a cone from side to side and backward builds strength and control. (Tip: concentrate on a soft landing)
- Place a six-inch cone on your left. Hop over the cone with both feet. Repeat by hopping back over the cone to the right. Repeat for a total of 20 hops.
- Place the cone in front of you. Hop over the cone with both feet, then hop backward over the cone. Keep your knees slightly bent when you land. Repeat for a total of 20 hops.
- Repeat the above with one-legged hops. Again, keep your knee slightly bent when you land. Do 20 hops on each leg.
When starting any new exercise program, take it slow. Remember to include warm-up and cool-down stretching exercises for your legs before and after working out. Your knees will thank you.