Orthopedic injuries: Why being male or female makes a difference

From competitive athletes to weekend warriors, you may have specific orthopedic needs based on your age or the sports you play. But did you know being male or female can affect your orthopedic health, too?

Differences in bony anatomy, ligaments or muscle mass mean males and females have different orthopedic vulnerabilities. Fortunately, by being aware of these areas of increased risk, you can take steps to help prevent injuries.

Anatomical differences

There are several areas where anatomy matters when it comes to the causes of common injuries. For example, men typically have a higher muscle mass. This can benefit them by providing more bone and joint stability.

On the other hand, females have more generalized ligament laxity, where ligaments are looser and may not hold the joints in place as well. Females also tend to have a shallower glenoid — the socket of the shoulder — which can lead to less stability.

A larger pelvis also affects the alignment of the lower extremities in women. This can increase the likelihood of knock knees and injuries caused by misalignment issues.

Orthopedic conditions in men

The male anatomy helps protect against some of the issues common in females. As a result, many of the conditions we see more in males are due to the types of activities they tend to choose.

  • Shoulder dislocations are higher in males because of athletics like football.
  • Males have a higher incidence of Achilles tendon ruptures.
  • They’re also more likely to tear their quadriceps, a muscle group in their thighs, because of the activities they’re doing.

Orthopedic conditions in women

In females, differences in anatomy — as well as hormonal changes experienced during life stages like menopause — can have an effect on orthopedic injuries.

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  • ACL injuries are eight times more likely in females because of anatomical differences.
  • Female athletes are more likely to get overuse injuries, such as ankle sprains or stress fractures.
  • The changes in estrogen levels during menopause put women at a higher risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures. Every year, approximately 300,000 hip fractures occur in those over 65.
  • Females get more joint pain because of ligament laxity. During pregnancy, water retention and a protein called relaxin make women more prone to temporary joint pain too. 
  • Women also have a higher prevalence of osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel and tendinitis.

Injury prevention for all

While men and women may have different injury risks, the general guidelines for injury prevention remain the same. Here are four things you can do to help reduce your risk of orthopedic and sports-related injuries:

  • Practice a holistic approach to strengthening the entire joint by working out not only larger muscles but also smaller ones. Resistance band exercises are a great way to work your small muscles.
  • Use stretching to encourage a good balance between the muscles.
  • If there is a mechanical malalignment, address it before it causes more problems. For example, some lower extremity alignment issues can be improved with custom orthotics.
  • Focus on healthy eating, which minimizes weight gain. For adolescent athletes, good nutrition and adequate intake of nutrients like vitamin D are also important in preventing issues into adulthood.

If you’re a parent or coach of a student athlete, take time to understand the role of prevention too. This will help you notice and address issues sooner. For instance, in younger female athletes, we often focus on landing mechanics and correcting valgus alignment to prevent knee injury.

Related: Is it arthritis or is something torn?

Seek care sooner rather than later

An orthopedic specialist can help you understand the cause behind any sports or orthopedic concerns — including those that may relate to an anatomical difference. Most of the time, treatments are the same for both males and females, even if the cause is different.

Bottom line: The sooner you seek out care for pain, the more options we have to keep you active. From strengthening and stretching to being aware of your orthopedic vulnerabilities as a male or female, prevention can help keep your joints healthy and keep you doing the sports you love.

Ready to move better? Get started today.

About the author

Kushal Patel, MD

Kushal Patel, MD, is an orthopedic sports medicine specialist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Lake Pointe. He is fellowship trained in sports medicine and shoulder surgery. Get to know Dr. Patel.

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Orthopedic injuries: Why being male or female makes a difference