Women at Higher Risk for ACL Injury

Research shows women are four to six times more likely to injure an ACL during high-risk sports than male athletes.

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are among the most common knee injuries. They often occur in sports like soccer, skiing and volleyball that require jumping, pivoting or changing directions quickly. The ACL — which allows the knee to bend back and forth — can also be injured during a collision while playing sports.

While ACL injuries can happen to anyone, female athletes are at a significantly higher risk of sustaining one. In fact, research shows women are four to six times more likely to injure their ACL during high-risk sports than male athletes.

Why does this happen? Research suggests it is due to differences in body structure between men and women. When compared with men:

  • Women’s knees tend to turn inward
  • Women’s knees tend to lock or straighten more when jumping and landing
  • Women tend to land with flatter feet
  • Women tend to jump and run with the soles of their feet in a more rigid position and to direct them away from their body's center of gravity

Neuromuscular Training Can Help Heal ACL Injuries

There is a growing awareness of ACL injuries in women and in the importance of preventing ACL injuries. In fact, many team doctors now recommend neuromuscular training for women in sports to help prevent ACL injuries.  

Neuromuscular training involves implementing exercises that focus on balance, power and agility. This trains the body to perform more stable movements and to place less stress on the joints, especially the knee.

About Neuromuscular Training Exercises

A group called the Santa Monica ACL Prevention Project developed a neuromuscular training program several years ago called PEP (Prevent injury, Enhance Performance). It was designed to help female soccer players avoid ACL injuries.

It is a 20-minute training that replaces the traditional athletic warm-up. PEP incorporates balance, agility and performance drills and includes these components:

  • Warm-up: Drills such as a slow jog from one sideline to the other
  • Stretching: A series of stretches working the muscles of the leg
  • Strengthening: Weight-bearing exercises such as toe raises and lunges
  • Plyometrics: Exercises that incorporate hopping and jumping and are designed to build power, strength and speed
  • Agility Drills: Movements for increasing stability such as running backwards and pivoting
  • Cool Down/Alternative Exercises: Exercises including abdominal crunches or seated butterfly stretches

Fortunately, both athletes and non-athletes can reduce their risk of sustaining an ACL injury through neuromuscular training. So tell your mother, daughter and women friends!

Click here to see the full PEP Program.