Men and women are different in a lot of ways, but one area of difference that may surprise you concerns their knees. Active women are at least twice as likely to suffer serious knee injuries as men, but it’s not just athletes who are at risk.
Although female athletes at the high school and college level suffer serious knee injuries, women who play recreational volleyball or participate in step aerobics also can injure their knees, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
A mother who carries her child down a flight of steps and misses the last step also can injure her knee. In short, a knee injury can happen to any woman, no matter how athletic she is.
Many people think that 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. Women are two to eight times more likely than men to injure the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), according to the National Institutes of Health.
ANATOMY OF THE PROBLEM
Why the difference? There are three main reasons.
- It’s in the Hips—The anatomical difference between men’s and women’s knees actually stems from the hip joints. Women tend to have wider hips than men and so the angle at which the thighbone connects the hip to the knee (called the Q-angle) is more pronounced in women than men.
- Estrogen Event?—A number of scientists link female hormones to knee injury. Some studies have shown that female athletes are more likely to suffer ACL injuries during ovulation, a time when estrogen levels are high. Why? The ACL appears to respond to estrogen by decreasing cell activity to repair basic ligament fibers called collagen.
- Training Technique—Posture and form also play a role in knee injury, according to researchers, who point out that women tend to run in a more upright position than men, thus building stronger quadriceps muscles than hamstrings and creating an imbalance in knee support.
WHAT CAN WOMEN DO?
The chief movements that cause knee problems in women are pivoting and turning, the AAOS says. But being a woman doesn’t have to mean experiencing a knee injury.
Follow these tips to protect this overexposed joint:
- Maintain a healthy weight—Being overweight or obese puts a lot of pressure on your knees, literally. Severely obese women are 25 times more likely to have torn cartilage than normal weight women, according to one study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
- 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 both so that neither has a bigger pull on your knee joints than the other.
- Practice 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.
STRENGTHEN YOUR LEGS
Strengthening exercises are especially important for your hamstrings.
Try hamstring curls by lying on your abdomen, draw your lower legs upward. Use resistance equal to about 10 percent of your body weight. Do a few sets of 10 to 15 repetitions; hold them a second or two.
Jumping exercises are also critical for building strength and preventing knee injuries. When you land from a jump, keep it soft. Come down on the balls of your feet and slowly roll back to the heel. Keep your knees bent and your hips straight.
Hopping over a cone side to side and forward and backward builds strength and control:
- Place a six-inch cone on your left. Hop over the cone with both feet, concentrating on a soft landing. 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 forward and backward exercise, but hop with one leg at a time. Again, keep your knee slightly bent when you land. Do 20 hops on each leg.
Information in this blog post originally appeared on Health Source on January 7, 2012.