Sex-specific differences in neuromuscular activation of the knee stabilizing muscles in adults: a systematic review

Steiner, Martina; Baur, Heiner; Blasimann Schwarz, Angela (2023). Sex-specific differences in neuromuscular activation of the knee stabilizing muscles in adults: a systematic review Archives of Physiotherapy, 13(4), pp. 1-15. BioMed Central 10.1186/s40945-022-00158-x

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Introduction The rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most common injuries of the knee. Women have a higher injury rate for ACL ruptures than men. Various indicators for this sex-specific difference are controversially discussed. Aim A systematic review of the literature that compares surface electromyography (EMG) values of adult female and male subjects to find out if there is a difference in neuromuscular activation of the knee stabilizing muscles. Methods This systematic review has been guided and informed by the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) guidelines. Studies which examined sex-specific differences with surface EMG measurements (integral, root mean squares, mean values, analysis of time and amplitude) of the knee stabilizing muscles were retrieved via searches from the databases PubMed, CINAHL, Embase, CENTRAL and SPORTDiscus. The risk of bias of included studies was assessed with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) study quality assessment tool. A synthesis of results was performed for relevant outcomes. Results Fifteen studies with 462 healthy participants, 233 women (mean age 21.9 (± 2.29) years) and 299 men (mean age 22.6 (± 2.43) years), were included in the systematic review. The methodological quality of the studies was mostly rated “fair” (40%). A significantly higher activity of the muscles vastus lateralis and vastus medialis was found in females, in three studies. Two studies found significantly lower neuromuscular activity in the muscles biceps femoris and semitendinosus in females. All other included studies found no significant differences or reported even contradicting results. Conclusion The controversial findings do not allow for a concluding answer to the question of a sex-specific neuromuscular activation. Further research with higher statistical power and a more homogeneous methodical procedure (tasks and data normalisation) of the included studies may provide insight into possibly existing sex-specific differences in neuromuscular activation. This systematic review could help to improve the methodical design of future studies to get a more valid conclusion of the issue. Trial registration CRD42020189504.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


School of Health Professions
School of Health Professions > Physiotherapy
School of Health Professions > Physiotherapy > Neuromuscular Control


Steiner, Martina;
Baur, Heiner0000-0002-4780-225X and
Blasimann Schwarz, Angela0000-0003-0934-8284




BioMed Central




Angela Blasimann Schwarz

Date Deposited:

08 Mar 2023 09:07

Last Modified:

08 Mar 2023 09:07

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Electromyography, EMG, Sex-specific, Sex differences, Females, Males, Adults, Lower extremity, Neuromuscular activation, Healthy




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