Sunday February 25, 1996

Gender may play a role in ACL tears

Physiologic differences may cause female athletes to have more knee injuries than their male counterparts, according to a study presented here today Saturday in scientific paper 268.

Data from the study indicated that women athletes have more knee laxity, lower levels of muscle strength and endurance, and different muscle reaction time than male athletes. Researchers said these factors could be responsible for injury to the knee, especially the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

Dynamic stress tests revealed that female athletes rely more on their quadriceps for knee stabilization during sports, compared to male athletes and nonathletic men and women, who first use the hamstring for stabilization.

"Favoring the use of the quadriceps for stabilization, rather than the hamstring, often results in ACL tears in rigorous sports," according to Edward M. Wojtys, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at MedSport, a section of the orthopaedic surgery department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Female athletes also took longer to generate maximum hamstring muscle torque during testing, compared to their male counterparts, and had lower levels of muscle strength and endurance, even when data was adjusted for body weight. However, no significant differences were found in either spinal (involuntary) or cortical (voluntary) muscle reaction times.

Forty female and 60 male athletes, and 40 active, but non-athletic volunteers participated in the study. The researchers said that when women moved from traditional noncontact sports to very physical games such as basketball, hockey, and soccer there has been an alarming rise in serious knee injuries to at least twice the level found in male athletes.

Dr. Wojtys and co-author Laura J. Huston, MS, also of MedSport, believe that the findings may develop a better understanding of gender differences for athletes and their knee injury rates.

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