B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 36

A Pound of Prevention

Minimizing your risk for ACL injuries. Part I

By Mike Mejia, CSCS

They are without question three of the scariest letters any athlete can hear- especially if you happen to be female. Not that guys are somehow immune to ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries; but when statistics show that women are as much as six times more likely to sustain one, lets just say that you definitely have a little more cause for concern. Especially when you consider that rehabbing a torn ACL can take anywhere from six months to a year and even then, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to return to the same level of play.

So, in an effort to help shed some light on what has unfortunately become a growing trend in women’s sports, I’ll be taking you through a multi-part series aimed at reducing your risk of falling victim to the dreaded ACL injury.

The numbers don’t lie

Before you can truly gain an appreciation for just how vital this information is, it might help to alert you to the current severity of the situation. Although there are countless other statistics that I could refer to, I think these are sufficient enough to get your attention.

• More than 20,000 high school female athletes suffer a serious sports related knee injury each year in the United States.

• More than 70% of these injuries are of the “non-contact” variety- meaning that the vast majority of ACL injuries in young athletes are due to strength deficiencies, or improper jumping and landing mechanics.

• A recent study published in MedPage Today reported a 400% surge in ACL tears among young athletes between 1999 and 2010- with the bulk of that increase occurring since 2005.

• According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 46,000 female athletes age 19 and younger experienced a sprain, or strain of the ACL in 2006 alone.

Scary statistics, to be sure. The real issue, though, lies in gaining and understanding as to why this tends to be such a gender biased injury.

Females more susceptible

So, just what is it that makes female athletes so much more likely than males to succumb to an ACL injury? Truth be told, there are actually a variety of factors- some of which are quite frankly, beyond your control. For starters, a woman’s ACL is smaller than a man’s and thus, more prone to injury. A smaller ligament has less available surface area to connect to bone and isn’t going to be as strong.

Having wider set hips also doesn’t help matters, as it creates a larger Q angle (the angle from your kneecap to the prominent bone at the front of your hips). The greater this angle, the more stress that will be placed on the medial, or inside portion of the knees. When this type of “valgus” stress is further accentuated by tight muscles and/ or strength imbalances in the lower body, girls often present with a “knock-kneed” appearance. If either you, or any of the girls that you coach exhibit this type of stance, it should be considered an early warning sign for potential problems down the road.

You also have to consider the fact that women’s connective tissue is more lax (no pun intended) than males, leading to less overall joint stability. Add in increased ligament laxity due to the escalating estrogen levels women experience during menstruation and for a few days each month, the situation only becomes worse!

As if that weren’t enough, females also tend to be less efficient than males from a neuromuscular standpoint. When landing from jumps, for instance, the muscles stabilizing the female knee tend to take a fraction of a second longer to fire than those of male athletes, often leading to poor landing mechanics and bad positioning. They’re also typically not very good at recruiting their hamstrings and glutes to help further stabilize the knee joint. This notorious “quadricep dominance” is a big reason why female athletes tend to land more straight-legged than their male counterparts and as such, subject their knees to much greater shearing forces.

A knee-d to take action!

As bad as it may seem, though, believe it or not, there is some good news! There are definitely steps you can take to help swing the odds more in your favor. And while they’ll never truly eradicate this terrible injury, they can at least help by drastically reducing your likelihood of ever having to experience one.

So, here’s a quick preview of what you’ll learn in the upcoming installments of this series:

The right way to warm-up: including how female Swedish soccer players age 14-18 reported a 64% decrease in ACL injuries from doing a specific type of warm-up just twice per week!

The importance of strengthening something known as the posterior chain: (yes, that’s actually an area on your body) and how you can do it either right on the field, using little to no equipment, or in a fully equipped gym.

How to effectively decelerate your body weight: Why improving both landing and change of direction mechanics is key to maintaining good joint health.

The importance of soft tissue work: It’s not all about practicing and training. Keeping your muscles and connective tissue supple with foam rolling and some targeted flexibility work can go a long way towards helping you keep your body in proper alignment.

Nutritional strategies to reduce your injury risk: Yes, what you eat can absolutely play a role in your quest to stay injury free!

Be sure to keep a lookout for the next article in this series on the importance of dynamic warm-ups. Until then, understand that this is a problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon. So, the more we can do to educate young athletes about the importance of taking good care of their bodies, the quicker we’ll able to turn things around.

You may also like...