Oral contraception can prevent knee injuries as well as unwanted pregnancies

In 1960 the first oral contraception, Enovid-10, was launched in the US market, known as the “pill”. Women were finally enthused about a form of contraception marketed as “safe and effective” and readily used the pill. Within two years oral contraception was used by over 1.2 million women and the numbers continued to rise.

Subsequently contraceptive pills have received lots of bad press. Now new research out of McGill University and the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) shows that oral contraception can prevent knee injuries as well as unwanted pregnancies.

These new findings, published recently in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, show that female athletes on the pill may have more stable knee joints than those not taking the pill. This is good news for female swimmers to soccer players. These McGill research results suggest women on contraceptives have tighter knee joints and may be less susceptible to ligament tears or injuries.

“Women are four to eight times more likely to sustain a serious knee injury than men,” says Paul Martineau, MUHC chief resident in the division of orthopaedic surgery and principle investigator.

“In one year, approximately 30,000 female athletes will suffer serious knee injuries. This can be devastating to the young athlete and may even end their athletic career. Previous research findings suggest that female hormones may play a role in altering ligament composition. Based on these studies, we decided to look at the effect of oral contraception on knee ligaments. Our long-term goal was to find treatment for those athletes at risk.”

Martineau and his research team assessed the knee stability of 78 female athletes – 42 who were taking the pill and 36 who were not. A specialized instrument (an athrometer) was used to measure the knee displacement or laxity of their knee joints. The women on the pill had significantly less laxity than those not taking the pill.

“Young women athletes may benefit from taking the pill,” says Martineau. “Some of these women may be at high risk for knee ligament injuries. Oral contraceptive pill use may reduce this risk and be an option for these athletes.”


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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