Our sports medicine physician explains why female athletes are more susceptible to ACL injuries, knee pain and other injuries.
Heather Cichanowski, MD
As a primary care physician specializing in women’s sports medicine, I see a wide range of injuries. From the high school basketball player to the avid aerobics enthusiast, active females of all ages come into my office. At Women’s Sports Medicine at TRIA, we understand active women are at a higher risk for certain injuries. This helps us find answers quickly.
ACL injuries occur more often in female athletes
The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is a major stabilizing structure of the knee. When we’re talking about ACL injuries, it’s often a female athlete in the room with me. She’s learning her future may now include surgery and months of rehabilitation.
The fact that surprises many of my patients is that risk of injuries is different if you’re male or female. Active females are two to eight times more likely to injure an ACL than active males.
Male and female athletes move differently
There are many theories why women are more susceptible to ACL injuries than men. It’s still not 100-percent understood. However, studies suggest that women move differently. Especially when landing from a jump. This can put the knee at higher risk for neuromuscular injury.
Male athletes tend to land with more hip and knee flexion. This promotes optimal knee positioning with knees pointing forward. Female athletes tend to land in a more upright posture and with their knees pointing inward. This way of landing puts added stress on the knee joint.
Female athletes have a tendency to rely more on the quadriceps during a landing. Male athletes use the quadriceps and hamstrings in a more balanced way.
Kneecap pain and instability more common in active women
Similar to ACL injuries, how an active woman uses her muscles can contribute to kneecap pain and instability. Weaker hip muscles and a reliance on the quadriceps can put added stress on kneecaps.
Certain structural factors in females can also play a role. The kneecap is a train that rides in a track (bottom of the thigh bone at the knee). Too shallow of a track, which can lead to an unstable kneecap, is seen more often in females.
Specialized care for active females at TRIA
Active females deserve sports medicine and orthopedic care specialized for their bodies. You don’t need to be a professional athlete or training for a marathon to benefit from specialized care.
Women’s Sports Medicine at TRIA Woodbury brings together experts who specialize in treating active and athletic women. The Women’s Sports Medicine team includes physicians, physical therapists, athletic trainers and a registered dietitian.
What makes TRIA unique is how the sports medicine team looks at the bigger picture. The team understands that other aspects of an active female’s life can impact injury patterns and recovery. This includes exercise habits, bone health, eating habits, menstrual history and pregnancy history.
About Heather Cichanowski, MD, CAQ
Dr. Heather Cichanowski is a primary care sports medicine physician and medical director of Women’s Sports Medicine at TRIA Woodbury. As part of Women’s Sports Medicine, she helps female athletes recover from injuries. Her practice focus includes the care of musculoskeletal and sports medicine injuries along with return-to-play decisions and injury prevention. Dr. Cichanowski travels internationally as team physician for the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team and has been a medical volunteer for numerous local events, including the Twin Cities Marathon. Dr. Cichanowski has published research relating knee pain and hip strength specific to collegiate female athletes. Outside of work, she enjoys cross-country skiing, canoeing, hiking and traveling.