Reducing the Risk of Noncontact Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries in the Female Athlete

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Abstract: High school and collegiate female athletes have a significantly increased risk of sustaining a noncontact anterior cruciate ligament injury compared with male athletes participating in the same sport. This review summarizes the current knowledge of the risk factors hypothesized to influence this problem, and the neuromuscular training programs designed to correct certain biomechanics problems noted in female athletes. The risk factors include a genetic predisposition for sustaining a knee ligament injury, environmental factors, anatomical indices, hormonal influences, and neuromuscular factors. The greatest amount of research in this area has studied differences between female and male athletes in movement patterns during athletic tasks; muscle strength, activation, and recruitment patterns; and knee joint stiffness under controlled, preplanned, and reactive conditions in the laboratory. Neuromuscular retraining programs have been developed in an attempt to reduce these differences. The successful programs teach athletes to control the upper body, trunk, and lower body position; lower the center of gravity by increasing hip and knee flexion during activities; and develop muscular strength and techniques to land with decreased ground reaction forces. In addition, athletes are taught to preposition the body and lower extremity prior to initial ground contact to obtain the position of greatest knee joint stability and stiffness. Two published programs have significantly reduced the incidence of noncontact anterior cruciate ligament injuries in female athletes participating in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. Other programs were ineffective, had a poor study design, or had an insufficient number of participants, which precluded a true reduction in the risk of this injury. In order to determine which risk factors for non contact anterior cruciate ligament ruptures are significant, future investigations should include larger cohorts of athletes in multiple sports, analyze factors from all of the major risk categories, and follow athletes for at least one full athletic season. Future risk assessment studies should incorporate reactive tasks under more realistic sports conditions.