Many studies have shown that women tend to suffer more knee problems than men due to hormones and physiology.
Several women who come to the clinic will tell me that their joint pains increase during their menstrual cycle. Studies have shown that active women are up to eight times more likely to suffer knee problems – particularly injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that stabilises the joint – than sporty men. Why? Partly because of our hormones and partly because of the way our bodies are made.
Hormones, such as oestrogen, weaken knee ligaments at different phases of the menstrual cycle, leaving them prone to twisting or straining. One study at the University of Calgary showed that the time of hormone-induced laxity – or flexibility – of joints varies among women, with most experiencing some pain or discomfort around ovulation, but others displaying a greater predisposition to knee and joint problems at the very start or end of their cycle. The greater the knee laxity, the more prevalent the biomechanical differences that could lead to injury; hence it would be advisable that women who find their knees are painful at certain times of the month should limit any high-impact exercise – including running for a few days. However other non-weight-bearing exercises such as cycling may be beneficial.
Hormones aren’t the only reason your knees might suffer.
The obtuse angle of women’s hips – designed to be able to carry children – can cause you to run differently to men, putting extra stress on your joints. Often, a woman’s upper legs don’t come straight down, but come in at an angle towards the knees which can cause the classic knock-kneed running style that puts strain on the knees. Working on improving your running style or getting a gait analysis done by sports physiotherapist can help.
Appropriate footwear can certainly lower your risk of knee problems too. Investing in good sensible shoes for workplace and doing proper research before buying your gym shoes are a must. Everyone should do a proper warm up and cool down but for women this becomes particularly important.
Lets look at some great exercises for knee strength building.
Strengthening the hamstring muscles (backs of your legs) and the gluteal muscles (buttock) through exercises such as squats, lunges and stair-climbing are utmost important.
Squats are great for strengthening the muscles that support the knee. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then lower your body by bending your knees, with your hips moving back as if you’re sitting in a chair. Keep the weight directly over your heels. Bend your knees to about 45 degrees, pause, then slowly return to the starting position.
Perform bunny hops by jumping on the balls of your feet (with both feet together), right to left over an imaginary line. Jump around to face the opposite way and then jump left to right. Repeat ten times.
So women, pay attention to what your body is telling you and with a few precautions, you are on your way to attaining all your fitness goals.