Female Athletes and the Risk of ACL Tear

ACL TearAs a physical therapist and mom of a daughter who experienced an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear of her knee, I have both a professional and personal interest in this topic. My 18-year-old daughter tore her ACL the summer between her junior and senior year in high school while playing club soccer. Fortunately for her, high school soccer was still a spring sport, and she recovered in time to play on the varsity team her senior year.

Female athletes are more susceptible to ACL tears than male athletes for several reasons that include: differences in the way their muscles contract and react; anatomical differences (for example, women have a wider pelvis); hormonal influences that affect the integrity of ligaments and make them more lax; and biomechanical considerations related to the position of knees during athletic activities. 

Approximately 80 percent of female ACL tears are non-contact, meaning another athlete was not involved in the injury. While contact injuries are most likely unpreventable, there are many proactive training strategies for lowering the risk of non-contact ACL injuries among female athletes. Physical therapists can make recommendations so that female athletes can stay flexible, increase their core and hamstring strength and improve self-awareness of leg positioning.

Despite being a physical therapist, it was difficult to convince my daughter of the importance of proper training to prevent ACL injuries. But it is imperative for coaches, parents and players to become educated about the risk factors for ACL tears among female athletes, especially soccer players. Concerns regarding running form, knock-knee positioning during conditioning and jump landing, inflexibility and decreased strength need to be addressed for injury prevention and optimal performance. 

Many times female athletes have a muscle imbalance between the quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as weakness of the lateral hip muscles, buttock muscles and core.  Female athletes demonstrate a tendency to rely more on the quadriceps, which puts the knees at risk for an ACL tear. Stretching, strengthening, agility and jumping exercises and coordination activities can lower the overall ACL injury rate among female athletes. Sport-specific agility exercises and programs that address deficits in strength and coordination of stabilizing muscles around the knee joints are critical. 

Orthopedic physical therapists work with athletes to implement programs to avoid abnormal movement patterns and decrease stress on the knees. A consult with a physical therapist may be just the thing necessary to address female athletic performance concerns and prevent an ACL tear. 

Contact Good Shepherd at 1-88-44-REHAB to request an appointment with a physical therapist.

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