Bad knees bearers

Knees holding up? Ankles OK?

I get asked those questions a lot, especially by people who don't exercise much or those who'd love to run, but can't because their knees and surgeons' scalpels have been far too intimate.

Maybe I'm just lucky. After 13 marathons and better than 15,000 kilometres of running on trails, bike paths, sidewalks and streets over the past five years, my knees are just fine — despite a hairline knee fracture suffered in high school when a sunken sewer kept me from catching a football.

Maybe it's genetics. My family tree is planted firmly in the steep, rocky terrain of a Greek island where weak knees meant you couldn't tend the flocks or scratch out a living from the soil.

Or maybe it's because I'm a guy.

A study out of Michigan suggests that female athletes may be up to eight times more likely to suffer knee injuries than males, probably because of the way they land on their feet.

The researchers found that female athletes tend to land from a jump with a more flexed ankle. Compared with a male, a female athlete tends to roll her foot outward with an elevated arch, and there is more knee abduction and internal rotation.

When the athletes were tired, the differences between men and women in the knee movements were even more pronounced, possibly putting women at greater risk of non-contact anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

The researchers said the findings may be helpful in developing more personalized prevention and treatment programs for people at higher risk of ACL injury.

You can still function with a knee bummed-out by ACL damage, but you'll walk around feeling as if your knee might give out at any time. Try competing in a sport like hockey, soccer, basketball or ultimate Frisbee with an ACL injury, and you'll be lying in a crumpled heap pretty quickly.

It's the kind of injury that plagues people who do sports that involve quick lateral movements like cutting, pivoting and turning.

Not a lot of that when you're trying to get from point A to point B as fast as you can — even if they're separated by 42.2 kilometres.