Background: Women's susceptibility to injuries involving the anterior cruciate ligament remains unexplained. Volitional contraction of the knee musculature is known to increase the resistance of the knee to shear deformation, raising the possibility that muscles play a part in protecting the anterior cruciate ligament during hazardous activities. We therefore tested the hypothesis that a volitional co-contraction of the knee muscles increases the sagittal-plane shear stiffness (or resistance to anterior tibial translation) of the knee more in men than in women.
Methods: Twenty-three volunteers (ten men and thirteen women; mean age, 24.7 +/- 5.4 years), all with anterior tibial translation of 6 mm, agreed to participate in the study. Each subject underwent a subjective evaluation of knee function and activity level, an arthrometric measurement of passive anterior tibial translation, and an isokinetic dynamometer strength test at 60 degrees/sec. A dynamic stress test was then performed to measure anterior tibial translation while simultaneously monitoring lower-extremity muscle response.
Results: Maximum co-contraction of the knee musculature significantly decreased mean anterior tibial translation in both men and women (from 7.8 mm to 2.2 mm in men and from 6.5 mm to 3.1 mm in women). The corresponding percentage increase in shear stiffness of the knee was significantly greater (p = 0.003) in men (379%) than in women (212%).
Conclusions: The results suggested that women have a diminished potential for muscular protection of passive structures of the knee in anterior tibial translation.
Clinical relevance: Maximal muscular protection of the anterior cruciate ligament in women may be less than that in men. This may be one factor explaining why more women than men are apt to sustain injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament.