In the split second it took for an off-balance landing and a single 'pop,' the volleyball career of Jill Beveridge ended. Beveridge, then a varsity player for Acadia University, tore her anterior cruciate ligament--a debilitating and often career-ending knee injury, which female athletes are between five and 15 times more likely to sustain than their male counterparts.
A team of University of Calgary researchers are beginning a large-scale project to discover just why women are more susceptible to both knee injuries and osteoarthritis, which they hope will lead to better training and treatment for all female athletes.
Dr. Barbara Loitz-Ramage works at the U of C faculty of medicine McCaig Centre for Joint Injury and Arthritis Research, and is conducting the osteoarthritis portion of the study. She hopes to determine whether double jointedness in females is a factor in sports injuries and early-onset osteoarthritis.
"In 10-year-old boys and girls, the risk of injury is the same, but this changes dramatically at 16 years, where we see a dramatic increase in girls' injuries," explained Loitz-Ramage. "Something about hormone changes in girls increases the risks of muscular-skeletal injuries."
Loitz-Ramage stressed she doesn't want to dissuade girls from sports.
"We're not trying to tell girls not to play soccer, but maybe we can change the way they train," she said.
U of C Bio-mechanics PhD student Sang-Kyoong Park will take female hormones into account in his study, which measures the hormone fluctuations during women's menstrual cycles and the resulting changes in joint laxity, or how loose the joints are. He will also measure the knee angles and movements of female soccer, basketball and volleyball players, since these are the three sports in which knee injuries are most common.
Park explained that researchers already know various factors may lead to more female knee injuries, including a wider pelvis, smaller bone size, more use of quadricep muscles as opposed to hamstrings, and more foot turn, or pronation.
"Previous studies are looking at only one side, only at joint laxity or ACL injury," said Park. "My study integrates all three factors, including biomechanical factors."
According to Loitz-Ramage, joint injuries are a great public heath concern warranting further study.
"We think of cancer and heart disease as the two major burdens on the health-care system," said Loitz-Ramage. "Joint injuries and arthritis are also consuming a huge amount of money."
Beveridge--who now studies bone and joint injuries herself--said she hopes the research will help other female athletes prevent injuries like hers.
"Hopefully we can tease out some of the risk factors and see which factors can best predict an ACL injury," said Beveridge. "Maybe this can help young girls choose a sport where they can have the least injuries."
Park is looking for approximately 100 femal athletes between the ages of 18-30 with no previous joint injuries to participate in his study. Subjects cannot have been pregnant or taking oral contraceptives.