Eyecare Tips

Girls Can Be 5-Times More Likely To Tear Their A-C-L's

September 29, 2017

This fall, more than 3 million girls have signed up to play high school sports.* That's the highest number ever in this country. Some will suit up for the first time, and some experts want to make sure they know their risk of getting hurt. It might surprise you to know that in non-contact sports like soccer and volleyball, girls are 5 times more likely to tear the ACL in their knees than boys.** It's a puzzling fact that has researchers looking for solutions.

Even though she's run high school track for years, it was a simple game of kickball that sidelined Brittany Sims. She landed awkwardly while jumping over a ball and snapped the anterior cruciate ligament - or ACL - in her knee.

"I thought my legs were strong and I didn't even know about an ACL. But I thought it was strong enough for me to jump like that, but it wasn't," says Sims.

It turns out that when it comes to knee injuries, strength may have little to do with it. Every year, an estimated 38-thousand young women tear their ACLs in non-contact sports. That's a rate much higher than male athletes.**

"That leads us to believe there may be some differences between women and men in their anatomy or their hormones or their neuromuscular control," says Ajit Chaudhari, PhD, at Ohio State University's Sports Medicine Center.

To try and get to the bottom of it, Chaudhari looked at one of the most basic differences between the sexes. He tested women's knees at different stages during their menstrual cycles. Two earlier studies suggested that a woman's hormones might explain why they're injured more often. But Chaudhari's study found that's not a factor.

"What we found in the study was actually that there were no differences in men and women in terms of the load on their hip and their knee when they did various high-risk activities," says Chaudhari.

By ruling out the menstrual cycle, researchers can focus their attention on other explanations - and they're doing so with a sense of urgency. When women tear ACLs at an early age, they're much more likely to develop osteoarthritis. Some get it in their 20s, which means more than missing a season, it could mean dealing with decades of pain.

Experts say stretching and programs specifically designed to strengthen the legs can help young women on the field. Talk to your team's trainer or your doctor for ideas to help keep your knees safe this season.

* High School Sports Participation Increases Again; Girls Exceeds Three Million for First Time, National Federation of State High Schools Association, September 5, 2007, nfhs.

**Knee and Hip Loading Patterns at Different Phases in the Menstrual Cycle, American Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 35, No. 793; originally published online February 16, 2007

Ohio State University