Why are Women More Susceptible to Knee Injuries than Men?
By Laura Ross, DO, Virtua Orthopedic Surgeon
If it seems women suffer more knee injuries than men, it’s because THEY DO. This is partly because of female hormones and something called the “Q” angle that’s unique to women.
Ligaments are stretchy bands of tissue that connect bones to one another and provide strength and stability to your knees. Estrogen, the primary female hormone, can make a woman’s ligaments more lax or loose.
When your ligaments are more lax, you need to be extra careful about the way you move your knees. You also have to compensate for what doctors call the “Q” angle. This represents the angle formed by an imaginary line drawn from the top of the upper leg/outer hip down to the knee.
When a young woman’s hips first begin to widen during puberty, that’s when the Q angle increases and the mechanics of the knees change. Young women are at greatest risk of injury when that change first takes place. But there also are issues that women of all ages need to know about.
Common knee issues for women
The three most frequently treated women’s knee issues include:
This condition occurs with overuse or injury to the cartilage directly under your kneecap. You may hear a pop, crack, or other funny noise when you bend, walk, or climb stairs. This can occur with or without pain. Even if it doesn’t hurt, it’s an early warning sign, and it might get worse. The best way to treat or prevent this condition is to strengthen the quadriceps muscles.
The menisci are two small pieces of cartilage that absorb shock inside your knee. Meniscal injuries occur when your foot is planted, and you twist to a degree that causes a tear. These injuries usually cause intense, deep-seated pain inside the knee.
Depending on the location of the tear, it’s possible for a meniscal injury to heal on its own. But certain parts of the menisci don’t have sufficient blood supply to heal on their own. Physical therapy, a knee brace, or anti-inflammatory medication may aid with healing. In more severe cases, however, your orthopedist might recommend surgery.
Runner’s knee (iliotibial band syndrome)
For female runners and walkers who cover serious mileage each week, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is a common issue.
The iliotibial band is a tendon that attaches from the hip to the outer side of the knee. If it’s not stretched properly before exercise, it can become inflamed and cause such pain that you may not be able to run or walk at all.
Once you’ve developed ITBS, it's likely that you'll need physical therapy and/or anti-inflammatory medication to recover.
You can help prevent ITBS with an adequate warm up/cool down and stretching, and by wearing properly supportive sneakers.
Preventing knee issues
These three simple steps can go a long way toward preserving healthy knees:
You can’t overestimate the value of a proper warm-up and stretch before a workout, run or sporting activity. You need to warm up the muscles with light activities like jogging, jump rope or jumping jacks and then perform either active stretches (stretches combined with movement like a lunge with a trunk twist) or static stretches (standing still doing a hamstring or quadriceps stretch).
Proper body mechanics
If you lift weights and work out with machines at a gym, you might want to choose ‘closed chain’ exercises (as opposed to ‘open chain’ exercises) to avoid knee injury.
In a closed chain exercise for the legs, your feet are fixed on a firm surface such as in a squat or lunge. This fixed position provides more stability and is safer on your joints. To prevent knee injuries while you're doing these exercises, you need to be careful not to bend your knees past 90 degrees. In open chain exercises, your arms and legs are free to move on their own such as in leg extensions or hamstring curls.
When it comes to sneakers, costly isn’t always better. It’s more important to replace them at least every 6 months and even more often if you’re a daily distance runner or walker. They don’t need to be expensive shoes, but they do need to be comfortable and supportive.
If knee pain is keeping you from your favorite activities, call 1-888-847-8823 to schedule an appointment with a Virtua orthopedic surgeon.
Updated January 14, 2022