How do ACL injuries affect women athletes?
With news this week that Lionesses, Beth Williamson and Leah Williamson are both suffering from ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries and so are out of the Women’s World Cup, the spotlight has been turned upon what is being called an “ACL epidemic” among women, with research still in its infancy.
The ACL is a ligament in the knee that helps stabilise the joint, and it is crucial for movements like cutting, pivoting, and jumping, which are common in many sports. Women athletes, unfortunately, are more prone to ACL injuries compared to male athletes, and although there is so far little research into the subject, there are currently thought to be several factors contributing to this disparity: Anatomical and Hormonal Factors: Studies have shown that women tend to have a narrower intercondylar notch (the groove in the knee where the ACL sits) and a smaller ACL, which may make the ligament more susceptible to injury. Additionally, hormonal factors, such as differences in estrogen levels during the menstrual cycle, can affect ligament laxity and potentially increase the risk of injury during certain phases.
Biomechanical Differences: Women athletes often exhibit differences in their movement patterns and biomechanics compared to men. For example, women tend to have greater knee valgus (inward collapse) during certain movements, which can increase stress on the ACL and other knee structures.
Muscular Imbalances: Differences in strength and muscle activation patterns can exist between male and female athletes. Weakness or imbalances in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles can affect knee stability and increase the risk of ACL injury. Sports Participation: The types of sports and activities women participate in can also influence ACL injury rates. Sports that involve sudden stops, changes in direction, and jumping (e.g., soccer, basketball, volleyball) put athletes at higher risk. A
CL injuries often require surgical reconstruction and extensive rehabilitation. The recovery process can be lengthy, typically lasting six to twelve months before an athlete can return to sports at their pre-injury level. Even after successful rehabilitation and return to play, there is a higher risk of reinjury, which can be emotionally and physically challenging for athletes as such injuries can affect their performance and potentially limit their career opportunities. It may take time for an athlete to regain confidence and performance levels following an injury. Injuries such as these can also increase the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis later in life, potentially leading to chronic pain and functional limitations. Efforts are being made to addr
ess these issues and reduce the incidence of ACL injuries among women athletes with injury prevention programs that focus on neuromuscular training, biomechanical corrections, and strength and conditioning exercises all showing promise in decreasing the risk of ACL injuries in all athletes.