Girls and ACL Tears: The Connection
Female athletes are up to nine times more likely to experience an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury than male athletes, according to the United States Sports Academy.
The ACL is a ligament in the knee responsible for keeping the tibia (shinbone) from moving in front of the femur (thigh bone). ACL tears commonly occur while playing sports due to jump landings or sharp directional changes.
“There are several reasons why ACL tears are more common for female athletes,” says Mark Halstead, MD, a Washington University physician and pediatric sports medicine specialist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “These include females having an increased ‘Q angle’ between the femur and tibia, which places more stress on the ACL, hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, and a tendency for female athletes to buckle their knees during the landing of a jump.”
A care history and physical exam usually can identify the injury, but magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used to determine if the ACL is torn. Surgical intervention followed by a physical therapy regimen (usually lasting from six months to a year) can resolve the injury. Once healed, the athlete can return to his or her sport.
“ACL injury reduction programs are in place to help decrease the likelihood of tears,” Dr. Halstead says. “These jump training programs help develop muscle strength and muscle memory to land more appropriately from a jump, avoiding the buckling inward of the knee when landing.”