ACL injuries could be influenced by gender and which leg dominates, study finds

Anterior cruciate ligament injuries are often linked to how an athlete moves. Kicking, pivoting and landing can be important factors in tearing or rupturing this knee ligament that helps keep the joint stable. But gender and which leg sustains the injury may be key as well, according to a new study.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Research Foundation looked at ACL injuries in dominant versus supporting legs among 93 athletes, 41 male and 52 female. The participants were a mix of professional, college, high school and youth soccer players who had undergone surgery for a complete ALC tear.

Among all athletes, contact and non-contact injuries were evenly distributed between left and right legs. The vast majority of players (84) preferred kicking with their right leg, while nine kicked with the left. A little more than half of the injuries occurred in the dominant leg.

Even when researchers looked at non-contact ACL injuries only, about half happened on the dominant leg, and half on the supporting leg. However, when they broken down by gender, the numbers changed drastically. Injuries on the dominant leg occurred in 74% of males, but only 32.3% of females.

Female athletes are at higher risk than males in general for ACL injuries.

Future research, say the study authors, may determine why female athletes are more prone to sustaining ACL injuries on their supporting leg. The authors speculate that anatomical differences as well as unique neuromuscular patterns during kicking or cutting moves may play a role.

The study appears in the August issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

-- Jeannine Stein