We all know that boys and girls are built differently. As they reach puberty, girls mature faster physically, tend to be more flexible and have wider pelvises. Thanks to the estrogen that our bodies produce, women store more body fat than men and have less lean body mass.

All these differences and more impact the way women move and how we position our bodies in physical activities such as running and jumping.

You don’t have to follow sports too closely to have heard the term ACL injury. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is in the front of the knee joint which, along with the posterior cruciate ligament in the back of the joint, control how your knee moves back and forth.

Athletes in many sports – football, soccer and basketball for example — are prone to ACL injuries. Yet evidence is mounting that shows girls are at greater risk for these types of knee injuries.

There are many reasons for this fairly recent discovery, not the least of which being we are thankfully reaching a tipping point in terms of participation of girls and young women in athletics. More and more girls are participating in sports, giving sports medicine researchers a quality cohort of data to study when it comes to knee injuries among all athletes and gender breakdowns.

Yet much of the simple physiology outlined above also explains some of the reasons girls tend to suffer from these injuries more often. Weaker inner quads and pelvic muscles along with a tendency for women’s feet to roll inward, or pronate, are believed to be the culprit for many of these knee and ankle injuries, particularly among young female athletes.

While strength training and flexibility are important in developing a highly trained athlete, one of the keys to preventing injury is proprioception, or the sense of balance and knowing where your joints are in space. Think of it as if you are scratching an itch over your shoulder – you don’t have to see it to know it’s there. That’s the gist of proprioception.

Some coaches of girl athletes as early as middle school are teaching proprioception to help prevent knee and ankle injuries. You’ve probably heard of it although it’s usually called “core stabilization” or stability training.
A 2009 study by researchers at Still University in Mesa, AZ found that following a 6-week proprioceptive training program significantly improved balance among 62 members of community’s girls’ high school basketball teams. A 2010 study by German researchers in the Department of Sports Medicine at Goethe-University Frankfurt showed “evidence of proprioceptive/neuromuscular training in reducing the incidence of certain types of sports injuries among adolescent and young adult athletes during pivoting sports.”

You don’t need much more than a balance board to start an effective stability training regimen for young athletes. In my next column we’ll outline how you can get started with your young athlete to help them on the field and out of physical rehab.

Dr. Annette “Doctor Z Md” Zaharoff heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. Learn more about her at www.drzmd.com.