For the majority of students, back-to-school preparations involve pencils, backpacks and other school supplies; however, for students who are also athletes, getting back into school-related sports activities includes dynamic warm-ups and core strengthening, especially for females who are soccer and basketball players. However, a return to collegiate sports also means increased injuries for female athletes, according to a Baylor College of Medicine sports medicine expert.
“Among NCAA athletes, the two highest risk patient groups for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are female soccer and basketball players. There are anatomical and neuromuscular factors that put these athletes at particular risk,” explained Theodore Shybut, who is a sports medicine expert and an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor.
Past evaluations have reported that female athletes are about 2 to 10 times more likely to experience ACL tears in comparison to male athletes.
The ACL is one of a pair of cruciate ligaments in the human knee that are also known as cruciform ligaments. The anterior cruciate ligament is 1 of the 4 principal ligaments of the knee, and the ACL provides 85 percent of the restraining force to anterior tibial displacement at 30 degrees and 90 degrees of knee flexion.
Shybut explained that while performing various movements in sports such as cutting and pivoting in soccer or basketball, female athletes experience greater trunk motion, causing higher rotational forces on their knees.
“What happens is her body is moving one way and the foot plants to change direction but the body keeps moving laterally, causing torque around the knee that causes it to buckle inward, twist and overload the ACL,” added Shybut.
According to Shybut’s research, female athletes tend to be more quadriceps-dominant when they land from jumps, in opposition to being more balanced between the quadriceps and the hamstrings, which means they land with their knees in an extended position and might result in giving way at the knee.
“The hamstrings are dynamic stabilizers of the ACL so they pull in a way that braces the knee against anterior cruciate instability,” he added.
To compensate for this fact, neuromuscular and core strengthening can be helpful in order to female athletes prevent ACL injuries. For instance, jump training is important so that female athletes can learn how to land with their knees in a more flexed position that engages the hamstrings and core strengthening to diminish trunk motion in cutting movements.
Functional movement-specific screenings is important to identify issues and determine which corrective exercises should be done to strengthen the core and to ameliorate neuromuscular coordination.
“Improving the way they control their trunks when they’re landing and cutting and learning to keep their bodies centered over the knee can help decrease their injury risk,” said Shybut.
For very similar reasons, ankle sprains are also more frequent in women.