ACL Injury Prevention Program Now Available to Individual Female Athletes

Research Shows Program Can Reduce Risk of Injury by 90 Percent

May 17, 2004

"In effect, we are re-teaching the muscles how to fire and respond to signals from the nervous system. At the end of six weeks, if the program is done correctly and consistently, these athletes will have a much better chance at preventing an ACL tear."

A new program designed to decrease incidence of non-contact anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, one of the most the most serious knee injuries sustained by female athletes, will be available to individuals this June.  The ACL Injury Prevention and Sports Conditioning Program is being launched by athletic trainers at University Sports Medicine (USM) due to the response to a similar program offered to high school basketball teams in December 2003.  This program is presented in partnership with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

The ACL Injury Prevention and Sports Conditioning Program is based on the results of a two-year clinical prevention trial among 1,400 NCAA Division I female soccer players completed by the Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Research Foundation. Results showed that increased flexibility, strength, proprioception, and agility can substantially reduce by up to 88 percent non-contact ACL tears in female athletes. Athletic trainers at USM reviewed the Santa Monica research and program results, and developed the area’s first program, which was enthusiastically received by female high school basketball players at 10 area schools. 

According to Wes Spencer, PT, ATC, director of Injury Prevention and Sports Performance Enhancement at USM, after the launch of the high school program, many parents and athletes inquired about joining such a program, but were disappointed to discover that it was only offered to those on participating basketball teams.

“Female athletes are at six to nine times greater risk than males for ACL injuries, and approximately two out of every 100 female athletes sustains an ACL tear. We are committed to helping female athletes in this community prevent this injury, especially because the proven program is relatively easy to master.”

The ACL Injury Prevention and Sports Conditioning Program will be held at the University of Rochester on Monday and Thursday evenings, from June 7 through July 22.  The program starts at 6:30 p.m. and ends at 8:00 p.m., and the cost is $150.  In addition to the ACL prevention techniques, overall sports conditioning is incorporated as well.

“We are supporting USM in this effort, because we believe that the ACL Prevention Program has the potential to make a big impact with female high school athletes,” said Edgar Black, MD Regional Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Excellus BCBS, Rochester Region. 

The ACL Injury Prevention and Sports Conditioning Camp is one component of USM's and Excellus' work.  Early in the fall, the two organizations hope to launch a research study to determine how effective the program is in decreasing the incidence of non-contact ACL tears among Rochester-area female teens playing in a variety of sports.

Background on ACL and the Prevention Program

The numbers on female ACL tears are astounding. Over 1.4 million women have been afflicted in the past ten years alone — twice the rate of the previous decade. It is estimated that more than 30,000 high school and college age females will rupture their ACL every year.  In the last 15 years, ankle sprains have decreased by 86 percent while knee ligament injuries have increased by 172 percent.

Spencer said that while much speculation exists on the cause of the higher injury rate for ACL tears in females—hormones, biomechanics, environment are just some of the issues being studied—researchers are still unable to definitively pinpoint exact causes, and up until recently, have been unable to develop strategies to successfully reduce ACL injury occurrence among females.

“For the first time, we now have documented research that shows that specific stretching, strengthening, flexibility and balance exercises can significantly reduce injury rates,” Spencer said. “This program works by retraining the nervous and muscle system in female athletes to be more efficient, and as a result, reduce the potential for non-contact ACL tears.”

The summer program will consist of warm-ups, upper and lower extremity functional strengthening exercises, plyometrics and jumping/landing strategies, and anticipated and unanticipated agility drills. The program will conclude with a rigorous flexibility review.  The consecutive nature of these drills provides an anaerobic and aerobic conditioning component as well. 

“We stress quality versus quantity with the girls. These exercises are so precise that they must be done properly or they will not receive any benefit at all,” Spencer said.  “In effect, we are re-teaching the muscles how to fire and respond to signals from the nervous system.  At the end of six weeks, if the program is done correctly and consistently, these athletes will have a much better chance at preventing an ACL tear.”

Sample Exercises

  • Warm-ups:                  Jog, slides, backpedals
  • Strengthening:            Lunge walk, ball bridge, calf raise
  • Plyometrics:                Lateral, front/back and single leg hops, rebound jumps, scissor jumps
  • Agility:                            Shuttle and pivot runs
  • Stretching                     Hamstrings, quads, calves, groin and hip flexors

For more information on the ACL Injury Prevention and Sports Conditioning program, call University Sports Medicine at 341-9150.

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Germaine Reinhardt
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