Genetic Influences on Orthopedic Risk

Everyone is susceptible to bone and joint problems, but studies suggest that genetics influence your degree of risk for certain orthopedic conditions, and may also influence the success of your recovery.

Over the last few decades, female athletes from tennis legend Billie Jean King to soccer’s U.S. Women’s National Team—and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup champions—have demonstrated women’s ability to share the athletic spotlight with their male counterparts. However, shared athletic ability doesn’t mean that men and women are also equal when it comes to sharing orthopedic risks. A review published in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons shows that your gender has a significant influence on your degree of risk for orthopedic conditions.

Gender and Orthopedic Risk

When we compare the physiology of men and women, we find differences in structural anatomy, hormones, and genetics that affect ligaments, bone quality, and susceptibility to osteoarthritis. Researchers believe, for example, that these differences may explain why female soccer players are three times more prone to ACL injuries than their male counterparts. But gender-specific injuries are not confined to athletes. Bone and joint problems can develop regardless of your age or your activity level. The review explored gender vulnerability to several musculoskeletal disorders.

ACL injuries.

We depend on our anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) for knee stability and movement—and women have a much higher risk of ACL tears than men do. Also, when a woman has surgery to reconstruct a torn ACL, she is more likely to tear the opposite ACL afterward.

Finger and hand fractures.

These injuries are more common among men.

Knee and ankle injuries.

Women are more vulnerable to tearing a knee ligament or spraining an ankle, and are more at risk for knee osteoarthritis. Stance and gait studies show that men and women have different stabilizing strategies. These differences may affect their joints during injury, and play a role in women’s susceptibility to ankle injuries; women sprain their ankles twice as often as men do.

Osteoporosis.

Here, we have a mixed bag. Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis, with a higher risk of hip fracture as a result. However, both men and women are at risk for these fracture. When men fracture a hip, they are more likely than women to suffer major complications. Pneumonia and systemic infections are among these serious complications; as a result, the mortality rate for men is higher after fractures.

Soft-tissue injuries versus bone injuries.

Men experience more soft-tissue trauma, such as tears in tendons, biceps, and quadriceps. An arm muscle injury of the distal biceps tendon is almost exclusively a man’s injury; and men damage their Achilles tendon three times as often as women do. Because women are more susceptible to osteoporosis, particularly after menopause, they suffer more bone injuries.

Remember that although gender is a factor contributing to orthopedic risk, it is only one facet of your health profile. Talk with your doctor about preventative steps you can take to maintain and improve your overall health.

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