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Why are females at a greater risk of knee injuries than men? Loughborough researchers are trying to find the answer

A difference in the distribution of muscle mass could well be the reason behind the greater risk of knee injuries in females according to the latest piece of research from Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences.

Research, led by Professor Jonathan Folland, found clear differences between men and women in the pattern of muscle mass distribution in the leg. Whilst it is well known that women on average have smaller muscles than men, it has always been assumed that the distribution of muscle mass was similar.

This study, published in the journal PlosOne, tested that assumption in 66 moderately active young men and women who all had an MRI scan to measure the size of ten leg muscles. Unsurprisingly all 10 individual muscles were smaller in females, but the key study finding was that eight of the ten muscles measured presented a sex difference in proportional size. These differences seemed to explain why men and women suffer from different injuries.

Women had a disproportionately smaller hamstrings muscle group that may explain their greater incidence of knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament rupture, as the hamstrings are important in stabilising the knee joint. In contrast men had a disproportionately smaller biceps femoris long head muscle, the part of the hamstrings muscle group that is most often strained for example during sprinting or football, and may explain why men are more likely to suffer this injury.

Commenting on the findings Professor Jonathan Folland said:

“These findings show some innate differences in the muscle anatomy of men and women that may have a range of consequences for physical performance and injury risk. It’s remarkable that these differences may contribute to the different injury rates of men and women in two of the most notorious sports injuries of knee ligament rupture and hamstrings strain.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 18/17

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Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world to study sports-related subjects in the 2017 QS World University Rankings and top in the country for its student experience in the 2016 THE Student Experience Survey.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 6th in the Guardian University League Table 2018, 7th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and 10th in The UK Complete University Guide 2018. It was also named Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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