Women are more likely than men to suffer knee injuries. Even for women who do not experience an acute injury, complaints about knee pain are common. This is not simply a difference in who tends to report injuries more often. Rather, some specific physiological factors may make women more vulnerable to knee injuries.
Differences in Leg Anatomy in Women
We all have the same general anatomy, but the specifics differ between men and women. Women tend to have wider hips than men. Additionally, they tend to have greater inward curvature of the thigh bones from the hip to the knee. These anatomical differences may predispose women to certain forms of knee pain.
Women Use Their Muscles Differently Than Men
Even when performing the same actions, such as kicking a ball, some evidence suggests that men and women recruit their major muscle groups differently. For example, sports medicine researchers have examined men and women as they kick a soccer ball. They found that men activate their hip flexors of the kicking leg and hip abductors (the outer muscles) of the supporting leg more than females. There are also differences in how much the glutes are activated between men and women.
Together, these differences in muscle action may make it more likely that women will suffer tears to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. Different muscle recruitment may also cause women to develop chronic knee pain from certain activities.
Hormonal Factors May Contribute to Women’s Knee Pain
Both men and women produce the hormone estrogen, but women produce it in greater quantities. These greater levels of circulating estrogen regulate women’s reproductive functions, but estrogen may also be bad for the joints. Higher estrogen levels are associated with changes in the formation of fibroblasts, the cells that produce collagen within connective tissue. Additionally, estrogen can affect water retention in the soft tissue within the knee. Collectively, these effects of estrogen can weaken the ligaments and make them more prone to damage, such as stretching or tearing of the ACL.
If you are suffering from aching knees, an orthopedic surgeon can help. At Southeast Orthopedic Specialists, we are experts in diagnosing knee problems in women. We can identify factors that contribute to your knee pain and suggest appropriate treatment options, such as physical therapy or orthopedic surgery. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.Return to Blog