Birth control pills lessen chance of knee injury in female athletes, study finds

WASHINGTON — A female athlete who plays soccer, basketball or lacrosse is far more likely to suffer a serious knee injury than male athletes.  But researchers say they may be onto some preventative medicine.

A research team at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston crunched data on 23,428 female athletes between the ages of 15 and 19, who had injured their anterior cruciate ligament — commonly known as the ACL — which connects the top and bottom of the knee.

They found that those who were on birth control pills had less serious injuries and were 22 percent less likely to need reconstructive surgery.

These findings, which appeared in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, are not a total surprise.  Previous studies have indicated that the surging estrogen levels of puberty may put teenage girls at greater risk of knee injury, and the pill helps keep those levels in check.

Female athletes are roughly two times more likely than their male counterparts to injure their ACLs in practice or play. It is a serious injury that has been known to sideline athletes for months or — in the worst-case scenario — end their athletic careers.

Some teenage girls and young women who play sports already use the pill to regulate their monthly cycles and produce lighter menstruation. The Texas researchers say if their results hold up in further studies, these female athletes might want to consider the pill for injury prevention, as well.

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