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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.


Join The Conversation
mattag29 mattag29 8 years
Injuries aren't the only reason women should pay attention to their knees. I never was a soccer player, but thanks to my body's makeup (Q angle, flat feet, etc...), I've been on an eight-month physical therapy program to treat chondromalacia of the knees. (It's a condition where the under side of the kneecap becomes arthritic.) This isn't an injury that's easily fixed with surgery. In fact, the only thing I can do is strengthen my leg muscle so that pressure is taken off of the knee. The reason I bring this up is because the first thing my doctor said to me when I hobbled into his office complaining of knee pain and the inability to walk was, "Women's knees. I hear this all the time." So even if you're not running marathons or playing soccer or lacrosse, you are still at risk. To protect yourself, you should strengthen all of your leg muscles (hamstrings, hips, butt, and especially the quads), and make sure you're feet aren't over- or underpronating. I wouldn't want anyone else to feel what I do!
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
this makes a LOT of sense - i actually tore my ACL in high school during a cheerleading competition, and i know that i'm not the only girl that's had that type of injury at that time. hmm...interesting how there's really a lot of 'stuff' to back up why you might get hurt.
mswender mswender 8 years
I am always doing leg strengthening and stretching. I think it is really funny that glucosamine chondroitin is the supplement for joint health, but it is made of seafood and I am violently allergic to seafood!
psychobabble psychobabble 8 years
Girls are more prone to these injuries also because of the "Q Angle." This is the angle the leg makes from the hip coming into the knee joint. Boys legs are very straight, but girls, especially those with big hips (me), have a serious angle in the joint that predisposes them to knee injuries. ACL tears being the most common. I myself tore my MCL and knee cartilage in High School when I used to play soccer and row. Lucky for me I've never had ACL problems but I'm always conscious of knee pain and taking care of my joints.
mswender mswender 8 years
I tore my ACL 13 years ago. I had surgery and did an extensive rehab program with my school's athletic trainer. I am still very close to him, especially since I had to do the rehab again after I broke my leg and dislocated my ankle this year. I was rehabing with 3 other people with ACL injuries and one boy with a knee injury, but not the ACL. It is huge injury and so much more prevelant in young females. It is so important to really learn how muscles work as female athletes.
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