The spate of anterior cruciate ligament tears taking out players before the Women’s World Cup this summer led to claims that female footballers were facing an ‘epidemic’ of ACL injuries.
Sports Personality of the Year Beth Mead ruptured her ACL in November 2022 and is only now set for her Arsenal return after 11 months, highlighting the long and challenging road to recovery after an ACL injury. However, evidence shows that this process may be even more difficult for women.
Recent research has revealed women aren’t just more susceptible to ACL injuries, but they also don’t heal as well as men.
In this blog, we’ll explore what the study found and the potential reasons why women may face a tougher road to recovery. We’ll also look at the treatment options currently available for those dealing with ACL injuries.
Exploring the Findings of the New Study
The latest study, carried out by Penn State researchers, aimed to address the gender gap in ACL recovery. Through advanced simulation using animal models, they discovered that chronic overuse might be the hidden culprit behind ACL injuries. Female tissues showed a lower capacity for repair compared to males.
The research, published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research, applied varying forces to ACL tissues that mimic everyday motions such as walking and running.
Their findings showed that while male tissues ramped up their healing response under light to moderate activity, the same wasn’t true in females.
This suggests that ACL injuries in women have a reduced ability to heal from the micro-damage accumulated.
Why Are Women Less Likely to Heal from an ACL Injury?
While further research needs to be conducted into why women are less likely to heal from an ACL injury, it’s thought hormones may play a significant role. Oestrogen, the hormone that predominantly affects female development and reproductive health, is thought to be a contributing factor.
Higher oestrogen levels can influence the body’s tissues, potentially affecting the ligaments’ strength and their ability to repair after injury. This hormonal difference may render female athletes more susceptible to longer recovery times and could also explain the increased risk of ACL injuries in women compared to men.
The interplay between oestrogen and ligament tissue is not yet fully understood, but the correlation has opened new avenues of research.
Understanding how hormones impact the healing process could be crucial for developing targeted strategies to improve ACL injury outcomes in women.
Treating an ACL Injury in Women: Your Options
Treatment options for an ACL injury often begin with rest and physical therapy, aimed at reducing inflammation and restoring mobility and strength.
For some, surgery may be required, particularly for those keen on returning to high-level physical activities. Advances in surgical techniques and a deeper understanding of the female anatomy have led to more customised surgical options.
Post-surgery, the recovery process often includes a carefully planned rehabilitation program.
As research continues to evolve, treatment options for women with ACL injuries are becoming more sophisticated. They focus on not just a return to function, but also preventing future injuries.
From hormone level monitoring to therapy adjustments, the goal is to provide comprehensive care that addresses all factors involved in the healing process for women.
If you are experiencing an ACL injury, schedule an appointment with Mr Jonathan Webb today. After assessing the severity of the injury, he will determine the best course of treatment.