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U.Va. Researchers Probing Reasons Why Women Athletes Suffer More Knee Injuries Than Men

December 1, 2000 -- Although women and girls have made great strides in sports, their knees may be paying a price.

Among high school, college and Olympic athletes, female players suffer substantially more knee injuries than men. Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), one of the primary stabilizing ligaments inside the knee, usually require six to nine months down time -- a period that adds to athletes’ physical and mental stress.

A collaborative effort at the University of Virginia may be on the verge of finding out why female athletes suffer more ACL injuries than men and how to prevent such disabling occurrences. The subject is one of the hottest research topics in sports medicine and athletic training.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded researchers in the kinesiology department of U.Va.’s Curry School of Education $222,000 to support its investigation into why females participating in interscholastic and intercollegiate sports experience injury to the anterior cruciate ligament at a higher rate than males. The injury happens more frequently in sports that require changing directions while running, cutting and landing from a jump, such as basketball and soccer.

The studies are probing the factors that may determine if females have less joint stability and, therefore, experience lower tolerance to stress on the knee joint. The central thrust of the research is to determine the role that gender and hormones play in ACL injuries and neuromuscular stability, according to principal investigator David Perrin, the Joe Gieck Professor of Sports Medicine and chair of the human services department, and study coordinator Sandra Shultz, a research assistant professor.

The researchers are taking blood samples daily from 20 collegiate females during one complete menstrual cycle to determine estrogen, progesterone and testosterone concentrations. The samples are drawn after the women participate in a ligament stress test that determines how much the joint is displaced when force is applied to it.

Twenty collegiate males serve as controls and are tested once every seven days over a 28-day period after undergoing the same testing.

To test the compliance of the knee, participants are placed in a device that applies force to the back of the calf, causing the leg to move forward, stressing the anterior cruciate ligament.

The studies will help the researchers understand the relationship between hormone levels and how well the knee handles stress loads. "Fluctuation of sex hormones during a women’s menstrual cycle may have an impact on the ligament’s compliance and how tight or how loose the knee is," Perrin said. He noted that preliminary studies have shown there is a difference in tightness and looseness of the knee during menstrual cycles.

The NIH-funded research is based on Perrin’s and Shultz’s on-going research into how gender and leg alignment affect muscle reflex times. Supported by approximately $53,500 to date from the National Athletic Trainers Association, the studies are trying to determine how quickly and efficiently knee muscles respond to joint stress.

With support from U.Va.’s Health System’s General Clinical Research Center, the studies are being conducted in the Sports Medicine/Athletic Training Research Laboratory in the kinesiology department of U.Va.’s Curry School of Education. The Curry School researchers, including Brent Arnold and Bruce Gansneder, are collaborating with several other U.Va. colleagues. They include Arie Rijke in materials science and engineering, Susan Kirk in endocrinology and Kevin Granata in orthopedics and biomedical engineering.

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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