Women footballers are more prone than men to knee injuries which can lead to arthritis, say researchers.
Swedish investigators at Lund University estimate the risk of knee ligament injury is three to four times higher for young female players. Many of the women who damaged a ligament went on to develop arthritis of the knee. But experts say women should not be alarmed by the findings published in Arthritis & Rheumatism. Ligament tears The study authors examined 103 female soccer players who had each suffered an injury to one of the ligaments in the knee – the anterior cruciate ligament. This ligament, in the centre of the knee, provides stability to the joint. It can be damaged during activities such as football which involve twisting of the knee. The women had damaged this ligament 12 years earlier while playing football between the ages of 14 and 28. When the researchers took x-rays of the women’s knees they saw more than half had signs of arthritis. These women also reported persistent knee pain or limited movement of the joint. About 60% of the women had undergone surgery to repair the torn ligament after their injury. But whether the women had had surgery or not did not appear to affect their risk of later knee pain. Lead researcher Dr Stefan Lohmander said the findings were “alarming”, with serious implications for the women’s future. “For many of these women, the disease process can be expected to progress over time,” he said, adding that many might need knee replacements before the age of 50 as a result. Long-term damage He said improved efforts at preventing and treating this type of ligament injury were needed.Dr Patrick Milroy, secretary of the British Association of Sports and Exercise Medicine, said: “Certainly, if it’s true that women are tearing their anterior cruciate ligaments more commonly then they would be at increased risk of osteoarthritis in later life. “Anterior cruciate damage is more common in football players. It’s happened to many professional players. “But with modern repair techniques the majority of them manage to get back to high standards if not the same standards of football. Paul Gascoigne was certainly one example.” John Brewer, head of sports science at Lilleshall Sports Injury and Human Performance Centre in Shropshire, said: “I can see the logic behind what they are saying. “The muscle bulk of the leg is slightly less in women than in men. “This decreases the ability to absorb the impact that twisting and turning cause, which are very much a part of football.” ‘Sensible measures’ But he said the risk of injury was still small when you looked at the rates in people playing football overall and surgical techniques had moved on in recent years. “This should not dissuade men and women from taking part in football. “Women’s soccer is the fastest growing sport for women in the UK and anything we can do to get people doing exercise is good,” he said. A spokesman from Arthritis Care said: “It is important that athletes take sensible measures when participating in sporting events, such as warming up and wearing protective clothing. “We would urge all sportsmen and woman, of whatever level, to consult with their GP or an appropriate practitioner, such as a physiotherapist, upon sustaining any injury of this kind.”(Source: Arthritis & Rheumatism: BBC News: October 2004.)