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Why female athletes are more prone to knee injuries and what you can do about it

physiotherapy in brighton

What a wonderful start to the Women's Australian Rules Football season. It's been fortunate that the injury toll has been keep largely in check. There have been a few exceptions, namely:

  1. Natalie Plane from Carlton with her high-grade ankle sprain
  2. Meg Downie from Melbourne with a hamstring rupture
  3. Stephanie De Bortoli also from Melbourne with an Achilles tendon tear
  4. Brianna Green, a Fremantle player fractured her collarbone


There have been two major knee injuries reported to have occurred during the season so far. Sophie Armitstead with a meniscal tear of the same knee she's previously had an ACL reconstructed and Kim Mickle who ruptured her ACL.

But what is this 'ACL'?
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is a rope-like structure that supports your knee from the inside. In some ways, it is the last structure that prevents your thigh bone and leg bone separating during not only high force activities but also day to day activities, like walking down stairs. In addition to the structural support offered, it is also considered to give information to the brain about how you are moving from the stretch and pull it undergoes as you move. Ideally, the joint and ligament is protected by strong muscles around the joint that can absorb most the force.

What puts the ACL at risk?
Somethings are out of our control, like the weather. There have been some weather conditions, that lead to a dry field, that have been seen to increase the risk of an ACL injury1.

Regrettably being older or having a previous knee injury also increases the risk of an ACL injury.

A higher grade of football was noted to contribute to an increased risk, but these players were also generally older and had previous injuries.

Gender is also a very interesting element of ACL risk. It has been found that females have an increased risk of ACL ruptures in several sports. These sports include wrestling (4 times the risk, compared to males), basketball (over 3 times the risk, compared to males), soccer (around 2.5 times the risk, compared to males), rugby (nearly 2 times the risk, compared to males) and lacrosse (only slightly higher risk)2. That study was done before the Women's AFL took off, so it did not include females playing AFL as a comparison. It was also interesting to see that AFL had similar ACL injury rates to soccer and basketball.

Fortunately, there are somethings that we can do to help reduce the risk. Increased weight and the associated higher Body Mass Index (BMI) have also been reported as putting the ACL at more risk of a rupture1. So, eating healthy and maintaining a good balance of regular physical activity has yet another advantage!

What should I do?
Most ACL injuries in AFL matches occur without contact. This would suggest that there are elements that could be worked on to reduce the risk of an ACL rupture.

Fortunately, research has backed this up3. Specific movement strategies and muscle groups have been identified as areas that players can work on to effectively reduce their risk of rupturing their ACL3.

If you are an AFL player or play one of the sports mentioned above, it would be worthwhile booking an appointment with a Bodywise Health Physiotherapist to assess your strength and movement patterns.

This allows the physiotherapist to prescribe an individualised exercise program aimed at reducing your risk of an ACL rupture and the expensive surgery and rehabilitation that goes along with it.

For further information on how you can prevent knee injuries or for a FREE assessment, please call 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994).

Until next time, stay happy and be Bodywise,

Michael Hall
Director
Bodywise Health

References

  1. Orchard, John et al. "Intrinsic And Extrinsic Risk Factors For Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury In Australian Footballers". The American Journal of Sports Medicine 29.2 (2001): 196-200. Web. 3 Mar. 2017.
  2. Prodromos, Chadwick C. et al. "A Meta-Analysis Of The Incidence Of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears As A Function Of Gender, Sport, And A Knee Injury-Reduction Regimen". Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery 23.12 (2007): 1320-1325.e6. Web.
  3. Cochrane, Jodie L. et al. "Characteristics Of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries In Australian Football". Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 10.2 (2007): 96-104. Web.

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