Women and Knee Pain: A Statistical Reality
Women are 2 to 8 times more likely than men to suffer from knee pain, and from knee injuries, in particular. Although there are many proposed reasons for this, let’s first look at the specific types of knee problems that women tend to sustain:
- ACL Injuries: 10% of female athletes will suffer from an ACL tear during their college careers. Although this may seem like the name of the game when it comes to collegiate sports, women experience this type of injury 5 – 6 times more often than men. A torn ACL occurs when a sudden movement or force causes the anterior cruciate ligament (or ACL) to rip. If your ACL injury involves multiple structures of the knee, then you are also more likely to require surgery.
- MCL Injuries: Whereas your ACL connects your tibia (shinbone) to your femur (thighbone) on the front side of your knee, your MCL connects these structures together on the inside of your knee. In fact, MCL stands for medial (or toward the middle) collateral ligament. MCL tears often occur when a powerful force twists the knee toward the outside of the body.
- Torn Meniscus: A torn meniscus occurs when an extreme force or wear and tear causes the C-shaped cartilage that lines the top of your tibia to tear. Female athletes, as well as senior women, are more likely to sustain these injuries.
- IT Band Syndrome: Your IT, or iliotibial, band runs from the outside of your hip to the outside of your shinbone. A thick swatch of fascia, a stiff IT band can cause a condition known as runner’s knee. This occurs when the IT band creates friction on the outside of the knee.
Why Are Women So Prone To Knee Injuries?
Although no one knows exactly why women suffer from more knee injuries than men, doctors have proposed several reasons. These hypotheses include:
- Female Anatomy: The first of these theories has to do with female anatomy. (And, it has nothing to do with strength.) A woman’s hips tend to be slightly wider than a man’s, because women can bear children. From our hips, our legs taper and turn slightly inward at the knee. This causes even a healthy woman to be somewhat knock-kneed, shifting our weight awkwardly toward the inside of the knee. Because most knee injuries involve twisting, the rotational force is magnified for women, often leading to knee injuries.
- Muscle Recruitment: The key muscle groups involved in knee movement include the quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and the hamstrings (back thigh muscles). Unlike men, women are more likely to develop a condition known as quad dominance. Quad dominance occurs when we begin to rely on our quadricep muscles more heavily than our hamstrings in activities where we should use both muscles evenly. Doctors believe quad dominance is a leading cause of ACL injuries.
- Hormones: In addition, the female hormone, estrogen, causes the ligaments to relax in preparation for pregnancy. However, estrogen levels also ebb and flow throughout a woman’s lifetime. For instance, studies have shown that female athletes most often injure their joints just prior to ovulation, when estrogen levels begin to soar. This is because lax ligaments in the knee can lead to torn ACLs and MCLs.
If you think that you might have any of the injuries listed above, then don’t hesitate to seek the medical advice of a board-certified orthopedic surgeon. You may be able to avoid the need for surgery if you follow your doctor’s orders.
I Am A Woman With Knee Pain. What Can I Do?
An estimated 100 million Americans live with the burden of chronic pain. Of these, 25% suffer from recurrent knee pain. The best way to avoid becoming a statistic is to nip knee pain in the bud before it can progress into a worse condition.
To prevent knee pain, try the following:
- Maintain a healthy BMI. To reduce unnecessary strain on your knees, strive to keep your weight within healthy BMI limits. If you search for “BMI Chart” in Google, you will be given the opportunity to enter your present weight and height into a BMI calculator. This will let you know where you currently stand and if you need to take action.
- Buy the best footwear for your feet. We probably don’t have to tell you that high heels aren’t the easiest on the knees. But, you can also buy athletic shoes that fit the needs of your feet, reducing stress on the knees. If your feet turn inward (pronate), outward (supinate), or neither (neutral), then buy running shoes that are rated for each of these conditions.
- Opt for low impact exercise, if you can. High impact exercises (running, jumping, or squatting) place extreme pressure on the knees. If you participate in sports, then you may not be able to avoid these activities. However, for everyone else, low impact sports (running on the elliptical, swimming, yoga, pilates, etc.) will allow you to get the cardio and strength-training you need without overburdening your knees.
- Don’t neglect your hamstrings. Since women are prone to quad dominance, make sure to strengthen your hamstrings if your doctor clears you for exercise. Stiff-legged deadlifts are ideal for strengthening the hamstrings–and they don’t involve bending your knees.
Treatment Options for Knee Pain
If you have knee pain, then your doctor will want to use imaging techniques to diagnose your pain. In particular, CT scans and MRIs can reveal soft tissue injuries, like torn ligaments or IT band irritation.
After you have received your diagnose, your doctor may recommend:
- The RICE Method: Simple knee injuries may be able to heal with a combination of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and pain while your injury is healing.
- Physical Therapy: Knee injuries often occur when we fail to complete functional movements (like climbing the stairs) with proper body mechanics. To give your knees their best chance, a physical therapist can help you strengthen key muscles (like the hamstrings) and loosen tight muscles (like the hip flexors).
- Knee Arthroscopy: If your knee condition requires surgery, then your doctor may insert an arthroscope, or flexible camera, to visualize the tissues of your knee. Using tiny instruments, your doctor will then remove pieces of torn ligament to restore knee movement.
- Knee Replacements: Rarely, your condition may require a partial or full knee replacement. If you need this type of surgery, then your doctor will use metallic hardware to restructure the knee anatomy.
If you have knee pain, then don’t fret. Our team of knee experts at NJ Spine & Orthopedic specializes in complex knee reconstruction surgery and conservative pain management for knee pain. For results that you can trust, contact our top-rated orthopedic surgeons at NJSO!