Young Women at Greater Risk of ACL Tears

Armen Hareyan's picture

The ACL tear became a commonly known sports injury thanks to Joe Namath in the seventies. Since then, the list of high-profile athletes who've torn their anterior cruciate ligament is well known to sports-fans. For instance, sports stars Terrell Davis, Chris Pronger, and Jamal Anderson all went under the knife to have their knee rebuilt.
But doctors want you to know that the athlete most at risk could be your daughter.

Dr. Matt Matava is an orthopaedic surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and team physician for the St. Louis Rams. He says he performs around one hundred ACL reconstructions a year, with around 80 of them on young, female athletes.

"Women are anywhere between two and eight times more commonly injured in regards to their ACL than males are," says Dr. Matava. "There's several suspected answers, but the most common reasons are neuromuscular differences, or in other words, the way women's muscles fire around the knee in response to a stress at the knee joint. And several differences between males and females have been shown."


With so many parents enrolling their daughters in summer soccer, basketball or softball programs, Dr. Matava says knowing the symptoms is important.

"The most common is an audible pop that occurs in about 60 percent of athletes and they will have immediate swelling, which occurs within the first six hours," says Dr. Matava. "With an ACL tear, you're pretty much out for the game, and if that's the case you're knee will swell up you should be evaluated by an orthopaedic surgeon relatively soon."

Dr. Matava tore his own ACL playing college basketball in Kansas City. He says ACL reconstruction has come a long way.

"Back in the 70s and early 80s, ACL surgery or ACL injuries were considered a career-ending type injury.