Election Section

Differences are bone deep between men and women

The Associated Press
Friday June 29, 2001

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Men and women aren’t created equal, at least when it comes to problems with their bones, joints and muscles. 

You’ve probably heard that women athletes are more likely than their male counterparts to suffer serious knee injuries on the basketball court – in fact, four to six times more likely, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.  

And that young women preoccupied with body image can abuse their nutrition, leading to musculoskeletal disorders. 

But you may be surprised to learn that men are increasingly at risk for that allegedly female condition, osteoporosis. 

The AAOS looked at how sex differences affect these conditions during an overview session at its spring meeting. 

Research doctors investigating the higher rate of knee injuries among women – often an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – looked at biomechanical and neuromuscular factors that may contribute to the risks. 

They compared women and men in both pivoting sports – basketball, volleyball, soccer – and non-pivoting sports – cycling, crew, and running, for example. 

“We found that female athletes in the pivoting sports often has less muscle protection at the knee that their male counterparts,” said Dr. Edward M. Wojtys, director of the Med Sport section of orthopedic surgery at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  

“That lack of muscle protection, which helps absorb the load on the knee joint, may contribute to the injury susceptibility.” 

Movement technique also may play a role, according to Dr. Freddie H. Fu, chairman of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh.  

“Neuromuscular factors, like how an athlete lands from a jump, may also be factors in injury risk.  

“It’s important that female athletes learn proper and jumping and landing techniques as part of their conditioning and training.” 

Women active in sports are especially susceptible to a condition known as the Female Athlete Triad: eating disorders that can range from mild to severe, as in anorexia and bulimia; absence of menstruation; and the increased risk of stress fractures and development of osteoporosis. 

“We have found that there are certain types of stress fractures that may be predictive of underlying osteoporosis, and these fractures are seen in patients with disordered eating,” said Dr. Jo A. Hannafin, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Cornell University Medical College and orthopedic director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. 

Osteoporosis is something that men have to think about, too. One in eight men will develop an osteoporosis-related fracture in his lifetime, according to the researchers. 

“Men have a different pattern of osteoporosis than women,” said Dr. Joseph M. Lane, professor of orthopedic surgery and assistant dean of medical students at Cornell University Medical College in New York City. 

“For example, a drug used to treat prostate cancer in men can put a man at increased risk of developing osteoporosis because it interferes with gonadal hormones. 

“It’s important that awareness of osteoporosis among men is raised, because men are much more likely to die from the complications of an osteoporosis-related fracture than women.” 

On the Web: 

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons - http://www.aaos.org.