Plenty of female athletes know the risks for painful anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. By now, most of us know that women are two to eight times more likely to suffer an ACL injury, but new research is showing the reasons why girls are more prone to the injury. Researchers are saying that one of the reasons lies within genetics.

The research was presented recently at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ annual meeting identified varied female-to-male expression of several genes that lead to proteins maintaining ligament structure.

The knee is comprised of four major ligaments, and the ACL is a ligament that runs diagonally in the middle of the knee, which provides 90 percent of stability in the knee joint. Because of this, it is almost imminent that athletes who tear this ligament would undergo arthroscopic ACL reconstruction to replace the damaged tissue and undergo a minimum of six months recovery.

Gene Expression Differences

In the study, ruptured ACL tissue was removed from seven male and seven female young athlete patients. The biopsies were divided into groups of microscopic and genetic analysis. The results showed that 32 expressed genes were isolated from male and female tissue, of which 14 genes had neither linked the X or Y chromosome.

The remaining 14 genes were grouped according to muscular development, function, and cellular growth. The microarray analysis showed altered responses in signaling pathways that regulate tissue growth and cartilage in females. Meaning, since there are genetic differences between males and females the integrity of the ACL’s structure would be compromised in women more than men.

One female athlete women can relate to is the talented UCLA women’s basketball forward Atonye Nyingifa, who made it through two separate ACL injuries. Though Nyingifa and her teammates did not make it to this year’s NCAA tournament, she still managed to keep her strength on two healthy knees and scored 13 points and six rebounds in her final game as a Bruin earlier this month.

Moving Forward

Though we may not want to change the genes in females just yet, we can start taking steps to improve their biomechanics. If women are indeed lacking support in their genes, then we can start showing our young women how to properly strengthen their bodies in strength training programs to lower the risk of ACL injuries.

If you are a female athlete struggling with an ACL injury, seek an experienced orthopedic surgeon to help determine your need for arthroscopic ACL reconstruction. Orthopedic surgeons are continuously working to fine-tune their reconstructive procedures, as well as reduce the amount of recovery time. After reconstruction surgery you will return home the same day and start physical therapy within 10 days, where you will gradually return to full activity. Call now to schedule a consultation to learn more about ACL reconstruction.