Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are often caused by a twisting movement or sudden stop. They are seen in a wide variety of sports, including football, netball and rugby, as well as skiing and snowboarding.
Young female athletes sustain around two to eight times more ACL injuries than male athletes, and a new US study sought to shed light on the reasons why.
Dr. William Landis from the University of Akron and Dr. Kerwyn Jones at Akron Children´s Hospital explored a range of potential causes, including hormones and the gait or stance of women as compared to men. Recently they found evidence to suggest that genes are a major factor.
“We wondered about the influence of genes and how they might affect the structure or integrity of these ligaments,” Landis said.
He and Jones examined 14 fresh surgical samples of ruptured ligament tissue taken from both female and male athletes who suffered non-contact injuries of the tissues. They discovered 32 genes that were expressed to much different degrees in the injured ligaments of females compared with those of males.
The researchers took a closer look at three genes that gave rise to specific proteins related to ligament structure and integrity, revealing that all three genes regulated ligament tissue in a much different manner in female tissue.
These differences may account for weaker anterior cruciate ligaments in the female athletes compared to the males.
The results, published in the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, have significant implications in sports medicine and training, orthopaedics and clinical practice, according to the University of Akron.
“We can´t change genes,” Jones commented, “but we can help girls strengthen their core and improve their technique. Several exercises and prevention programs have been proven to reduce the number of ACL injuries and we can and should introduce them to all girl athletes starting in middle school.”
“Clinical treatment and training in sports for females and males would likely now need to be modified so that the anterior cruciate ligaments could be strengthened appropriately in order to reduce or avoid injuries to this tissue most common in females,” Landis added.