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Women: Bend, Don't Tear, the ACL

Doing so can cut your risk of injury

SATURDAY, Oct. 11, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- If it's autumn, it must be the start of anterior cruciate ligament injury season for women.

Whether they're goalies sliding to snare a soccer ball, cheerleaders turning cartwheels or skiers slashing down a slope, females are more susceptible to the injury than males.

The anterior cruciate ligament -- usually simply referred to as the ACL -- is a thick cord that runs through the center of knee and behind the kneecap, attaching the femur to the shinbone. This tough ligament keeps the lower leg from sliding too far forward, which is necessary when athletes decelerate, pivot or land after a jump. Snapping or tearing the ACL has long been a common injury in many popular fall sports for women, but recent research shows many of these injuries are preventable.

For example, women can reduce the risk of ACL damage by learning to land from jumps with both knees bent. A recent study at the University of North Carolina found that women's tendency to land with partially unbent knees is the reason they injure their ACLs two to eight times more often than men. According to the study, even though women naturally land this way, with practice, they can learn to land with more deeply bent knees and reduce their risk of ACL injury in the process.

Strengthening the quadriceps and hamstring muscles in the upper thigh is also crucial for women because they rely more on their ACL and less on muscle strength than men during many athletic moves. Beefing up the thigh muscles is especially important for women. Hamstrings have to cooperate with quadriceps to stabilize the knee, however, so it is important to keep them equally strong to prevent knee injuries.

More information

For more information about preventing ACL injuries, check the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina; American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
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