High Rate of Knee Injuries Among Female Athletes Alarming

Beaumont and Oakland University Program Aims to Reduce Knee Injuries in Young Athletes

As sports participation grows among young women, so too have the number of knee injuries.  A team of Beaumont doctors, in collaboration with Oakland University, have initiated a program aimed at reducing the risk of anterior cruciate ligament tears and other lower extremity injuries in female high school and college athletes. 

The “Female Sports Medicine Injury Prevention Program,” consists of a risk screening followed by the implementation of a personalized program to help reduce the risk of future injury. 

A knee screening held at Seaholm High School in Birmingham.

“Female athletes are at increased risk for certain lower extremity injuries when compared to males,” says Joe Guettler, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and director of Sports Medicine Education and Research at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.  “There is an epidemic of ACL tears, as well as other injuries of the knee, ankle, and leg. Studies have shown that female athletes participating in sports like soccer or basketball are three to five-times more likely to injure their ACL than males.  The majority of these injuries are occurring in women between the ages 15 and 25.” 

In 1972, only one in 27 girls participated in high school sports.  Today, nearly one in two high school girls head onto the field, court or track after school.  Female athletes at risk include those who engage in jumping, cutting and agility sports such as soccer, basketball, skiing and volleyball. 

“Research has shown that the two main predictive factors for injury relate to the way female athletes are built - factors we can’t control. And even more important, issues relating to strength, dexterity and agility - factors we can control,” adds Dr. Guettler, member of Beaumont’s screening team.  “Our program focuses on the latter, reducing the number of injuries to younger women.”

Explains Dr. Guettler, “One of the most commonly injured structures in the knees of female athletes is the ACL.  It’s one of two large ligaments in the middle of the knee.  It provides stability and allows athletes to jump, cut, and pivot without the knee buckling.  The injury usually occurs during a cut or pivot.  Athletes report that the knee twisted, shifted, dislocated or popped.  Subsequent to the injury, swelling and stiffness usually occur within 24 hours.  If the injury is ignored, many go on to have instability of the knee.” 

The good news – experts agree that training programs that teach proper landing methods and basic injury prevention techniques can decrease the risk of ACL injury. Below are some tips from Dr. Guettler that may reduce the risk of injury:

  • Hit the gym – strengthening the muscles of the thighs and hips can definitely help the knee.
  • Take a few extra minutes to stretch and warm up.
  • Work on your dexterity – if the muscles can learn to react more quickly, injury can often be avoided.  Sport-specific maneuvers should be worked on both during practice and prior to play. 

Taking precautions can go a long way in helping athletes avoid the female knee injury epidemic.

The Beaumont Hospitals provide a full spectrum of specialized care in the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of all orthopaedic injuries and conditions. Beaumont's department of Orthopaedic Surgery offers leading-edge treatments and technology including minimally invasive surgery, implants and trauma surgery.  Beaumont is Michigan's most experienced orthopaedic hospital specializing in surgeries of the back, neck, foot, ankle, hand and upper extremities; hip and knee replacement; scoliosis treatment; tumor surgery; pediatric orthopaedics; and sports medicine.  The Beaumont Hospitals in Royal Oak and Grosse Pointe are ranked among the 2009 “American’s Best Hospitals” for orthopedic care by U.S. News & World Report.