Here at Sole Motion Podiatry we are BIG fans of women in sport! Whether you’re part of a sports team or are on your own fitness journey, it’s an awesome commitment and achievement – but you know that! What you may NOT know is that when it comes to sport and fitness injuries, there are some that affect women more commonly than men. So we thought we’d fill you in on four of the most common lower limb injuries affecting active women!
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) describes an aching pain that occurs behind the kneecap (patella). It is also known as runner’s knee because of it its high rate of occurrence in runners, with 25% of all runners (male and female) being affected at some point during their life. It occurs because the patella mistracks, meaning that it moves out of its normal alignment and crosses the knee irregularly as it bends and straightens. This causes irritation and damage to its underlying structures and is how the painful symptoms begin.
PFPS occurs in women more so than men because women have a larger ‘Q’ (quadriceps) angle – the angle at which the thigh bone (femur) meets the shin bone (tibia). The reason for this greater angle is thought to be because of our greater pelvic width that we need to have to give birth. This angle is, on average, 3 degrees bigger in women than men, which is thought to place more strain on the knee joint.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four knee stabilising ligaments. It’s located inside the knee joint and attaches to the bottom of the femur and the top of the tibia. ACL injuries often occur through twisting forces at the knee, particularly when the foot is in a fixed position on the ground. This is common in fast-paced sports that have quick changes in direction and rapid stops and starts such as basketball, football and soccer. ACL injuries cause knee pain and tenderness and can create an unstable feeling at the knee.
Women sustain ACL injuries at a significantly higher rate than men – on average 3.5 times more! The aforementioned Q angle is one of the theorised explanations because of the greater stress it creates at the knee joints. Other suggested causes include differences in muscle strength, a greater tendency for ligament laxity and hormone fluctuations.
Unlike regular fractures that occur from large forces often sustained in trauma, stress fractures occur over time from repetitive activity, such as running. They are described as thin, hairline fractures and usually have a gradual onset of pain as the fracture develops. Stress fractures often occur at the tibia (shin bone) and the bones of the midfoot (metatarsals) because of the large impact forces through these areas.
Stress fractures are more prevalent in men than women because of their generally lower bone density, hormonal fluctuations and the increased risk of osteoporosis.
Ankle sprains are a painful and frustrating injury for many of us, but have been found to affect women fifty percent more than men. Ankle sprains occur when we roll our ankle inwards or outwards and stress one or many of the supporting ankle ligaments past a point that it can safely handle without incurring damage. That’s when the pain, swelling, bruising and difficulty to weight bear begins.
Again, for women, it is believed that alignment differences at the knees, legs and hips play a role and affect the feet too, as well as the greater ligament laxity meaning the ankle isn’t as stable or supported as it is with men. Women also tend to wear shoes outside of sporting events that are less supportive around the ankle joint, and any previous sprains outside of the sporting realm can still generally weaken the ankle and its ligaments, creating a greater degree of instability.
Other conditions with greater female prevalence include iliotibial band syndrome, shin splints and plantar fasciitis. Don’t forget that women have more estrogen, less muscle mass and strength, higher body fat, greater ligament laxity, a wider pelvis, a larger Q angle and decreased bone density, to name a few things. So it is expected that women will have a fair few differences to men.
Don’t worry ladies – despite the increased prevalence of these conditions, there are definitely things we can do to reduce your risk of injury. It starts with a comprehensive biomechanical assessment where we check:
From here, we can make a plan based on our findings and your risks. We’ll talk about the stability of your footwear, the potential use of orthotics to correct any alignment or postural issues, and work to stretch and strengthen muscles and joints. We’ll also talk through your sporting and fitness activities, and techniques you can use to minimise your risk of injury while you’re active.
To book in with one of our expert podiatrists, you can give our team a call on 1300-FX-FEET!