Ava’s Angle: A dive into common knee injuries of female athletes, relative to UConn women’s basketball

The UConn women’s basketball team overpowers the Butler Bulldogs at home picking up a 79-39 win at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. following a noon matchup on Jan. 21, 2023. While the Bulldogs had a 13-0 run early in the game, UConn took control shortly after leading to the Huskies’ outscoring Butler 75-26 for the rest of the matchup.

Injuries are a very common occurrence in sports. Millions of athletes are sidelined due to injuries every year. There are ways to reduce the risk of an athlete getting injured, but ultimately there is no way to completely prevent them. 

Sports fans witness how injuries affect their favorite athletes and it’s always special to watch their long-awaited comebacks. One of the most common types of injuries that we see in sports is tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and other issues related to knees. For context, the ACL is a tissue at the knee that connects the thigh bone to the shinbone. It’s most common to injure the ACL in sport activities, and it’s a lengthy recovery process. 

Both males and females deal with injuries all the time, but women are more at risk for common injuries in sports, especially tearing ACLs. Statistically, women are two to eight times more likely to tear an ACL than male counterparts, depending on the sport, according to Yale Medicine. While there are many reasons that this is the case, one is that the structure of a woman’s knee and joints are different from that of men. Generally, women’s joints have more range of motion and looseness compared to men’s, which contributes to more instability. There is typically less muscle mass around women’s knee joints, so the support for rotational movements can be less. 

It also comes down to techniques and collapse patterns that women endure. For instance, when women land from a jump, they tend to move their knees inward or not bend them enough, which can lead to injury. This can be corrected through training, but sometimes it’s just natural. Landing this way can lead to ligament tears if overstretched. ACL tears are still extremely common injuries for men too – mainly from activities that involve stopping short or changing directions suddenly; women are just slightly more prone to injury while doing pivotal movements. 

Now let’s visit the relevance of this topic. UConn women’s basketball has dealt with an immense amount of injuries this season, and several of them are knee problems. Before the season even began, two UConn players were sidelined for the entirety of the 2022-2023 season with knee injuries. Star Paige Bueckers suffered a torn ACL in late July and freshman Ice Brady suffered a dislocated patella in her right knee in October. Guard Azzi Fudd hurt her knee back in December at Notre Dame and has just recently re-injured the same knee in the Huskies’ game against Georgetown after already missing eight games. 

From my research, there are many known and successful female athletes who have gone through torn ACLs or other significant knee injuries. Unfortunately for some it’s occurred multiple times. Bueckers is just one of many female athletes that has torn her ACL. 

Just one month after Fudd became the first high school sophomore to ever win the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year, she tore her ACL and MCL (medial collateral ligament). The injury happened while Fudd was participating at the USA Basketball’s 3×3 U18  tournament in Colorado Springs. After making a full recovery, Fudd was ranked as the top player for the Class of 2021 by ESPN and is now a sophomore at Connecticut, dealing with more knee injuries. 

Other distinct female athletes who’ve suffered knee injuries in their career: 

Alex Morgan – Soccer 

Soccer star Alex Morgan injured her ACL during her senior year of high school. After being sidelined in her senior year of high school, she recovered after her surgery to play in college at the University of California. She moved on to become a World Cup Champion and was named US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year. 

Serena Williams – Tennis 

When an athlete commits 25 years to a sport, they are going to see their fair share of injuries. Serena Williams, the most dominant tennis player ever, dealt with a series of knee injuries from 2004-2006. In 2006, she was limited to only four tournaments because of her knee issues. As we know, there was a happy ending to Williams’ tennis career, as she finished with 73 career titles, 23 double titles and two mixed doubles titles. 

Sue Bird – Basketball 

Going back to UConn, legend Sue Bird tore her ACL in 1998, her freshman year at Connecticut. Although this was a huge setback for Bird, she recovered after surgery for an incredible sophomore year where she led the Huskies to a national title. Despite her long-lasting success on the court in the WNBA, she has had several knee problems that all trace back to her freshman year injury. She missed the 2013 season for the Seattle Storm after having a cyst removed from her knee, and another in 2017 made her miss time. Just last year, Bird retired from basketball, finishing with four WNBA championships since being drafted as No. 1 overall in 2002. 

Each of these examples represent just a fraction of all the injuries that female athletes experience, specifically knee injuries. 

The whole point of this article is to bring light to women in sports and how often they deal with knee injuries and make impressive comebacks. The simple and true answer is that men and women have different structural builds. Although, the proneness to injury has nothing to do with female athletes’ ability to perform in athletics – as we know, there are numerous female icons in sports history. 

The best thing that athletes can do is to turn their injuries into positive experiences that can only make them stronger and more prepared for what’s to come in their future. For fans of the Huskies, if all goes well and players are able to recover, the long-awaited duo of fan favorites Fudd and Bueckers on the court together will be the ultimate injury comeback. 

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