Knee injuries are one of the most common sports injuries in people with active lifestyles. The types of knee injuries most people face are ACL, MCL, and PCL injuries, twisting or stretching injuries, and torn cartilage. Although both men and women experience knee injuries, active women are two to eight times more likely than men to have certain types of knee problems, like tears of the ACL and non-contact injuries.
Women and knee injuries
There are a few reasons why women are more prone to knee injury, and unfortunately, some of these factors are uncontrollable. Women are naturally built to be a bit curvier than men, which results in wider hips that can place additional stress on the joints. Women with higher Q-angles (essentially the angle from the center of your knee to the outside of your hip) are more susceptible to knee injury. Women also tend to have changes in joint laxity associated with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, and other hormonal occurrences. During these times, hormone levels jump up, increasing joint laxity (the movement of joints) and instability in the knees.
Although these traits are uncontrollable, factors such as strength can be controlled. Women tend to be less strong than men, and some of these strength discrepancies appear to contribute to injury. For instance, women often land jumps differently than men, and poor landing form can lead to knee injury. Men tend to use their hamstrings, glutes and back muscles to land a jump, whereas women are more likely to use their quads—which places a lot more strain on the ACL. By increasing the strength in your legs, you can take the pressure off of your knees during athletic movements, safely absorbing it into your muscles.
Reduce your risk
To reduce your risk of knee injury, follow these guidelines:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Your knees receive all of the weight from your body, putting a lot of stress on that area. By maintaining a healthy weight, you will reduce the stress on your knees, lowering your chance of knee injury.
- Warm up properly. Always warm up before exercising or playing sports to ensure that your body is stretched out and physically ready for intense activity.
- Take it slow and easy. If you are trying a new technique or want to increase the intensity or speed of your workout, take it one step at a time. There is nothing worse than pushing your body beyond its physical limit. That is when injuries most frequently occur.
- Strength train. Work to strengthen the muscles in your legs to avoid direct impact on your knees. Your joints will be more stable if there is muscle surrounding them.
- Buy the appropriate gear. It is extremely important to make sure you are wearing the proper shoes for whatever workout you are performing. Don't wear basketball shoes to go running, don't wear running shoes to play soccer. There's a reason why different activities use different shoes.
Landing jumps properly
Improperly landing a jump is one of the primary causes of female knee injury. Practice proper landing form by focusing on the following tips:
- Land on both feet, when possible.
- Try to initially land on the ball of your foot before allowing your heels to touch the ground. This will reduce impact and will enable a "softer" landing.
- Make sure your ankles, knees and hips are all bent during the land. Think of your body as a spring - you're bending the "coils" (your joints) as you land to help reduce impact, kind of like the shock absorbers on a car.
- Engage your core and leg muscles as you land to control the landing motion.
- Ensure your knees remain in line with your hips and ankles throughout the landing motion. If you notice your knees have a tendency to buckle inward, it's definitely time to work on leg strength.
- Keep your spine and feet in neutral positions as you land. You don't want to bend too far forward or stay too upright. Similarly, you don't want your feet over pronating or twisting outward during the land.
- Avoid "hard" lands or sudden stops.
Check out this quick video on proper landing form:
Header image credit: Lululemon Athletica, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/6154092372/sizes/z/in/set-72157627592490651/
In-article image credit: Lululemon Athletica, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/4337803343/in/set-72157623234378477