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Soccer, Quads, and Knees

Although, we have all known for a long time that men are from Mars and women from Venus, the scientific community is just figuring out that we're different. It is not just men and women who are different exercisewise, it is true for boys and girls, too. Specifically, they are different when it comes to the knee joint.

Quarterback Tom Brady may be breaking NFL hearts with his ACL tear, but the injury occurs up to six times more frequently in high-school girls than in same aged boys. The reason is two fold: Boys experience a growth spurt in puberty that increases the size and strength of their hamstrings and glutes. Girls don't really experience a "power spurt" in the same way. Girls tend to have strong quads, the muscle on the front of the thigh, and weak hamstrings and glutes on the back of the thighs. This imbalance takes it toll on the knee, and specifically the anterior cruciate ligament, better known as the ACL.

The muscle imbalance and the dominance of the quad disrupts the correct muscular pattern, or "turn on function" of the back of the legs. Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center created a leg-conditioning program for female high-school athletes. The work focuses on activating and strengthening the backside of the body. And this re-education takes time. Generally three sessions a week that are 30 to 60 minutes long for an eight-week program.

To learn what the conditioning program entails, just

Tim Hewet, who created the conditioning program explains the work like this:

ACL injuries don't happen when you have your knee flexed deep. So, [I'm] teaching them to get in deep, flexed position, turning on all the muscles on the back side of the leg, and at the same time, controlling or stiffening their core.

Preventing injury means more girls can stay on the field and hopefully have healthy knees as they age, a big concern for me and my aging knees. Take home message: If you have a daughter that plays soccer, basketball, or tennis you should look into creating a knee health program at her high school. If you play sports, keep your hamstring and glutes strong.

If you have torn your ACL, share the details of your recovery in the comments section below.

For more specifics on ACL injures, check our new Health Guide.


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