Programs aim to help female athletes lower risk of sports injuries

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Programs aim to help female athletes lower risk of sports injuries

from Citizen Times, by Nanci Bompey published October 23, 2007 12:15 am

Asheville - Brian Lawler used a black marker to draw two vertical lines above Emily Haaksma's kneecap and then instructed the 12-year-old soccer player to jump up and down - first on one leg, then the other.

Lawler, director of sports performance enhancement at Blue Ridge Bone and Joint, watched to see where Emily's knee landed in relation to her foot with each jump.

"If the knee lands inside the first toe, that's a huge red flag that a person is at greater risk for knee injury," Lawler said.

For a young, female soccer player like Emily, knowing the risk for knee injury is important. Research has shown that female athletes are at a significantly higher risk than male athletes for tearing their anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.

Blue Ridge Bone and Joint screened female athletes from the Asheville Buncombe Youth Soccer Association for their risk of knee injuries at a clinic earlier this month. Lawler plans to share his findings with the athletes, their parents and coaches this week.

"Part of my goal was finding the athletes that need the most help," Lawler said. "I want to increase awareness to girls, parents and coaches that these athletes are at higher risk and they need to do something about it. . If you can get these athletes when they're young, you can improve their mechanics and help them maintain good mechanics during maturation and beyond."

Females at greater risk

Lawler said female athletes are four to six times more likely to tear their ACLs than male athletes playing the same sport and at the same level of play.

"I do see a lot of female athletes with ACL tears, and I've seen the negative effect it has," he said.

The ACL is the primary stabilizing ligament of the knee. It lies in the middle of the knee and prevents the shinbone from sliding out in front of the thighbone.

Many noncontact ACL tears occur when an athlete performs a jump or cut motion in sports like basketball, volleyball and soccer.

Dr. Jay Jansen, an orthopedic surgeon at Blue Ridge Bone and Joint, said he performs 30-50 ACL reconstructions on young women each year.

"In the last 30 years, more and more women are participating in sports," he said. "With that boom in aggressive sports like soccer and basketball, we have seen more ACL tears."

Women may be more susceptible to tearing the ligament because they tend to have wider pelvises, their knees turn inward more than men and the width of the notch that holds the ACL is narrower. Women also tend to rely on their quadriceps, the muscle in front of the thigh, more than their hamstrings.

Jansen said there are also theories that hormones may play a role in ACL tears. He said young women also may experience coordination issues while they are growing.

Awareness increasing

Katy Beeler tore her ACL when she was a junior soccer player at Reynolds High School.

"It was definitely the most painful thing I've ever felt," said Beeler, a UNC Asheville freshman.

After enduring surgery and six months of rehabilitation, Beeler was able to return for her senior year season and now plays on the team at UNCA. She said about five girls on her team have had surgery for torn ACLs, including two this season.

"They're trying to make us more aware of it," Beeler said of her coaches. "But everyone thinks it's not going to happen to them."

Local high school coaches and trainers said they are incorporating more exercises to help prevent knee injuries into their team's workout.

"Our coaches work with girls' jumping and landing so they're not in a vulnerable position," said Gene Hare, athletic trainer at Erwin High School.

Kade Kawaguchi, women's director of coaching for the Highland Football Club, said he strongly encourages coaches in his league to do ACL prevention exercises twice a week during practice. Kawaguchi, who tore his ACL this year, helped to organize the screening clinic.

"There has been a bit of an outcry in the community, especially among parents, to find out what can be done to reduce injuries," he said. "The earlier we can catch weaknesses in the way that they run, they way that they react to change of direction, if we can catch them before they become habits we can prevent more injuries in the future when it becomes more of a problem."