Several studies have shown that sportswomen are at much higher risk of injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee than men. But does this perceived gender difference extend to other sports-related injuries? That's the question a Californian research team set out to answer with a 15-year retrospective study comparing sports injuries in men and women.
The study involved 3,767 18-22 year old male and female athletes from California's Pomona College competing in seven sports - basketball, cross-country running, football, swimming, tennis, track and water polo - at intercollegiate level. From the autumn of 1980 through the spring of 1995, all athletic injuries seen in the training room at the college were evaluated by the same head athletic trainer, with injury reports retrospectively compiled and categorised by gender, sport and anatomic site of injury.
Analysis of the patterns of injury demonstrated much more similarity than difference between the sexes. Key findings were as follows:

l. Overall, female athletes had more injuries (52.5 per 100 participant-years) than their male counterparts (47.7 per 100 participant-years). However, this difference was not statistically significant.
2. No significant gender differences were detected in the pattern of injury for the sports of basketball, cross-country, football, tennis and track.
3. Only two sports - swimming and water polo - showed a statistically significant gender difference in their pattern of injury, with female swimmers suffering more back/neck, shoulder, hip, knee and foot injuries than their male counterparts, and female water polo players having more shoulder injuries. However, the higher rate of shoulder injuries for these sports was attributed, at least in part, to the more rigorous training regimen used by the women's coach.
4. Females had more hip injuries in every sport except basketball, although the differences reached significance only in track and swimming. Women also had more lower leg injuries in every sport but basketball, with the differences reaching significance only for track and football.
5. Male basketball players had more back/neck and facial injuries than their female counterparts, while male athletes also had a higher overall rate of thigh injuries, primarily due to an increased rate found in male tennis and track athletes.
6. ACL injuries were twice as common in women than men (nine compared with four), but because of the small numbers this difference did not reach statistical significance.

The researchers conclude: 'Except for some minor gender differences in total injuries for two sports and several differences in total injuries by anatomical location, our data suggest very little difference in the pattern of injury between men and women competing in comparable sports.'
Int J Sports Med 2001 Aug 22(6), pp420-423

Isabel Walker