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Coach Takes New Approach to ACL Injuries: Teach Athletes AND Parents

Thursday, February 02, 2006

With two All Greater Rochester varsity-level female high school athletes recently sidelined with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, one local coach is doing all he can to keep his players safe from this season-ending injury. For the next three weekends, Richard DiGiacomo will be requiring that both his Rochester Junior Rhino players AND their parents attend an educational program given by University Sports Medicine (USM) athletic trainers specifically designed to decrease incidence of non-contact ACL tears.

“I want to do all I can to keep my players healthy and safe, and to give them a leg up so they can take soccer as far as they want to, whether it’s playing for a varsity team or gaining a scholarship to college,” DiGiacomo said. “While the girls clearly know I think this program is very important, in the end, it is up to them to follow through with the stretching and strengthening throughout the week. It’s my hope that by involving parents, it will be one more motivator to keep them on top of the program.”

The ACL Injury Prevention Program is based on the results of a two-year clinical prevention trial among 1,400 female soccer players completed by the Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Research Foundation. Results showed that increased flexibility, strength, proprioception, and agility may substantially reduce 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 has been taught to 200 female varsity athletes at 12 area high schools who participate in soccer, basketball, and volleyball at the varsity level.

According to John Bernfield, MS, ATC, CSCS, director of the ACL Injury Prevention and Performance Enhancement Program at USM, the program uses a variety of specific flexibility and strengthening exercises to help prevent an injury that has sidelined many high profile area athletes.

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

The numbers on female ACL tears are astounding. Over 1.4 million women have been affected in the past 10 years alone — twice the rate of the previous decade. It is estimated that more than 10,000 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.

Bernfield said that while much speculation exists on the cause of the higher injury rate for ACL tears in females—hormones, biomechanics and body structure 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,” Bernfield said. “This program works by retraining the neuromuscular system as well as increasing strength and flexibility in female athletes to be more efficient, and as a result, reduce the potential for non-contact ACL tears and improve athletic performance.

“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.”

For more information on the ACL injury prevention program, please contact University Sports Medicine at 585-341-9150.

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