Biomechanics & Differences Between Men and Women
Biomechanics & Differences Between Men and Women
Surprising or not, women and men are not equal in regards to anatomic structure and function of the lower extremities. This can cause variations in every day walking, exercising and shoe gear wear patterns between genders. These variations can be an explanation for certain medical conditions affecting the foot and ankle.
From an anatomic standpoint, women generally have a wider pelvic region, short legs and an increased angle of the femur from hip to knee region. Certain specific motions of the hip and pelvic area were found to be higher in females, whether walking or running at any speed in comparison to males. The gluteus maximus muscle in the buttocks is also noted to be more active with walking and running in women. Moving towards the feet from the hips and buttocks, women’s knees tend to be stabilized more by ligaments, contrary to men who have more muscular stabilization. Something that is widely discussed as far as an anatomic difference between men and women is the Q angle. This is the angle measured between the thigh muscles and patellar tendon at the knee. The angle is naturally higher in women due to the wider pelvis mentioned above. An increased Q angle can cause knee pain which in turn can cause foot pain, however, feet that flatten (or pronate) can increase the Q angle and cause excess stress on the knee. The muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments of the lower extremities are usually connected in some way and if one of them isn’t functioning appropriately, it can cause pain elsewhere and is called compensation.
Specifically looking at the foot and ankle, there are still differences between women and men. Believe it or not, a woman’s foot is not just a smaller version of a man’s foot! Of course, males tend to have larger feet on average, so it isn’t a surprise that women take shorter and more narrow strides to walk with a man at a similar speed. Increased contact along the bottom of the foot is noted in males, however, increased pressure along the outside of the foot can be noted more in females. The ankle joint has more range of motion in women, which is flexing and extending your ankle in an up and down motion.
Women in general tend to have greater joint mobility and their ligaments are more flexible than males which can contribute to more ankle sprains, foot injuries or other issues causing foot and ankle pain. When a woman’s foot hits the ground walking or running, there is more pronation (arch flattening) that occurs. Increased pronation can cause heel pain, tendonitis, bunions, calluses and more.
Foot and ankle specialists should take the biomechanical and anatomic differences between male and females into account when evaluating patients’ feet. It is important to include these differences in the treatment plan especially in custom molded orthotics. Custom orthotics are inserts made specifically for each patient from a mold of the foot and the differences between gender can be incorporated into these devices to allow for the best function of the foot. Shoe companies are also recognizing the differences between women and men and their feet. You will see certain companies now promoting women specific shoes and over the counter inserts to accommodate women. Do your research on the companies and products before purchasing and if you have questions, ask your podiatrist.
Don’t have a podiatrist? Please call any one of our offices near you to schedule an appointment and our doctors will be happy to discuss your specific situation and questions with you. We can then make recommendations on shoe gear, inserts and orthotics to keep you on track for life!
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