How Women Can Prevent Hyperextended Knees in Soccer

Jul 6, 2021

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, team U.S. goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher, exited the U.S. vs Canada game with a hyperextended knee. She sustained the injury at the 20th minute after colliding with her teammate Julie Ertz and landing on her right leg extended. A look at footage of the challenge would show her knee bending backward. 

Saying it looks (and sounds) painful is an understatement. Hyperextended knees are a common injury in women’s soccer due to structural differences of lower limbs in women. In this post, we will take a look at knee hyperextension, what causes it and how to prevent or address it.

A Description of Hyperextended Knees

The cause of hyperextended knees are straightforward - they occur when the leg straightens too much at the knee joint. This puts stress on the knee tissue and at the back of the knee joint as well. The knees usually hyperextend when they sustain a direct blow or if they’re subjected to sudden deceleration or stop. That’s why it’s a common injury in sports including soccer. 

With that said, women who play soccer (and other sports) are more likely to get hyperextended knees. We’ve talked about this at length before - differences in anatomy, biomechanics and hormones make women more prone to joint instability. That includes the knees as well. So when women put too much pressure or force on their knee joints, the risk of hyperextension goes way up (compared to men). That’s why it’s crucial for women to protect themselves (more on this later). 

Symptoms of Hyperextended Knees

  • Knee instability - The knees feel wobbly, especially while walking and you may feel as if your legs will give out. You may also notice that you can’t easily stand on one leg.
  • Knee pain - It’s normal to feel a sharp pain in the back of the knee or a pinching pain in the front of the knee. This pain can range from mild to severe depending on how bad the injury is. 
  • Restricted mobility - You may find it difficult to bend or straighten your leg, due to swelling around the hyperextended knee.
  • Swelling/Bruising - Usually immediately or soon after the injury, you will notice bruising around the knee and surrounding area. 

It’s important to visit a doctor immediately if you ever sustain any of these symptoms after an awkward landing or collision. This injury can resemble or actually lead to an ACL tear, which is more serious and requires prompt treatment. 

Speaking of treatment, pain relief is usually supportive, meaning the goal is to reduce the pain while the knee heals on its own. That usually means the standard Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) treatment. That may include:

  • Avoidance of high-intensity exercise and/or high-impact sports (like soccer) (Rest)
  • Icing the affected knee multiple times a day for 15 minutes at a time
  • Compression may entail using a compression wrap or elastic bandage around the affected knee
  • Elevation may involve lying in your bed with your leg on a pillow

You may also need painkillers to reduce the aches of a hyperextended knee. Severe cases may require surgery. However, most cases heal within 2-4 weeks. 

How to Prevent it With Protective Gear 

For the most part, hyperextended knees heal quickly, but they will keep you on the sidelines for a while. So prevention is ideal. The best way to reduce the risk of getting a hyperextended knee is by wearing protective gear and strengthening the knees. 

Women’s Soccer Protective Gear for Hyperextension 

Wearing the leg guards and padded pants can help absorb shock that might contribute to a knee hyperextension. They can add an extra layer of protection to your shin pads, so that high-impact blows are reduced. 

Strengthening the Knees

Soccer protective gear can only go so far, however - it can’t prevent you from bending your knee too far back. Remember, women are more susceptible to this bending of the knee since they have more lax joints. Strengthening the knees with weight training and proper warm-ups can keep the knee tissue stable and prepare them for high impact. 

Don’t Let a Knee Injury Go Too Far

A hyperextended knee is usually not too severe, but it’s a major inconvenience and pain for a dedicated soccer player. It will keep you off the pitch for weeks. So make sure your knees are strong and protected by means of conditioning and the right protective gear. Because unlike other joints, sore knees aren’t something you can just play with.

Looking for protective soccer gear for women? Browse through our selection of women’s  apparel and accessories.

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