updated 8/24/2004 11:11:55 AM ET 2004-08-24T15:11:55

Female athletes are at greater risk for knee injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) because of muscular changes that occur during puberty, according to a report in USA Today.

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The injury is an extreme tearing of the ligament that has affected scores of female soccer and basketball players in the last decade. The ligament is injured through twisting the knee or from a blow to the side of the knee.

The findings, from a study published this month in the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, suggest that female athletes can be taught early on to strengthen muscles that control the knee and avoid an ACL injury, the newspaper reported Tuesday.

It is known that women are more vulnerable to an ACL tear than men, but this study is the first to trace when and how the injury risk occurs, according to the paper.

The study followed 181 middle and high school athletes, both male and female, who executed moves that typically cause an ACL injury. The scientists recorded the moves on camera and analyzed the pattern with a computer.

Even after recovery from the serious injury, girls faces changes in the joint which may lead to osteoarthritis of the knee, researchers told USA Today.

Compared to male athletes, females run an eight-times-greater risk of tearing the ACL, a band that connects the shinbone to the thighbone.

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