The Risk of Knee Injuries in Women

Recent research establishes why women are more susceptible to knee injuries.

illustration single leg jumps

Dot Drill (pictured above):Place little pieces of tape on the floor approximately 12 inches apart and hop on one leg from dot to dot, varying your direction. Do  one to two sets of 10 repetitions. 

The medical community has known for a while that women are more prone to certain knee injuries than men, in part because of basic differences in anatomy, hormones and movement patterns. But recent research conducted at Oregon State University establishes for the first time that the discrepancy is due in part to differences between the male and female nervous systems.

The contrast centers on recurrent inhibition, a mechanism in the spinal cord regulating the way the nervous system communicates with muscles. Men control nerve impulses like sprinters, who are trained for explosive muscle usage. Women control nerve impulses like distance runners, who are trained for endurance. The researchers, who published their findings in the European Journal of Applied Physiology (March 2012), also found that men’s spinal cords regulate leg muscle response differently than females’. Add up these factors, and women are left with a higher risk for day-to-day knee trauma, including tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

To minimize their chances of injury, many women would benefit from plyometric drills, which involve dynamic jumping movements. One to try: the Dot Drill (see above), which involves one-legged hops — side to side, front to back, and diagonally. (For more protective exercises, see “Weak in the Knees.”)


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