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Unintended Side Effect of Women's Rise in Sports Participation: Serious Knee Injuries

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"We now have developed a very good conditioning program to overcome muscle and coordination problems," says Noyes, who is president and CEO of Cincinnati Sportsmedicine and Orthopaedic Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The program that they developed emphasizes leg curls, building the calf muscles, balance training, and beginning the program long before the sports season starts.

Much of the program emphasizes retraining women in deep knee flexion so that women can land and pivot safely in sports, according to Hewett, the study's lead investigator, who is director of applied research at Cincinnati Sportsmedicine and Orthopaedic Center.

Hewett and Noyes believe that training programs like theirs should be broadly disseminated because women are flocking to competitive sports and playing at a disadvantage. All too often, they are not undergoing necessary training. Seeing "geometric growth" in female sports participation, Hewett says that this kind of training is critical to prevent a broad-scale epidemic of disabling injuries.

Marc Paul, head athletic trainer at the University of Nevada in Reno, who reviewed the study for WebMD, agrees. He, too, worries about the growth in women's sports without a similar investment in training. "This is something I can use and show to my administration to get more money for strength and conditioning as we add new women's sports programs," he says. Paul sees the benefits as extending far beyond women engaging in contact sports. Just your average recreational sports participant can reap benefits from neuromuscular training, he says.

Vital Information:

  • Women sustain injuries to their anterior cruciate ligament 4-6 times more than men do.
  • Many of these knee injuries can be prevented if women would train seriously prior to playing competitive sports, focusing on strengthening muscles, improving balance, and proper landing techniques.
  • Possible explanations of the discrepancies in injury rates are that women have weaker muscles; that they favor using their stronger quadriceps muscles, straining the knee; that estrogen makes women's ligaments smaller than men's; and that the wider pelvis of women changes the angle of impact at their knee joint.

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