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University Sports Medicine Brings ACL Injury Prevention Program to Rochester

Research Shows Program Can Reduce Risk of Injury by 90 Percent

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

In effect, we are re-teaching the muscles how to fire and respond to signals from the nervous system.

One of the most serious knee injuries that sidelines female high school athletes may decrease in Rochester this season thanks to an innovative program being implemented by University Sports Medicine (USM) at 10 area high schools.  The program, called PEP (Prevent injury, Enhance Performance), targets the prevention of non-contact anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.  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.

The PEP program is based on a two-year clinical prevention trial among 1,400 NCAA Division I female soccer players that was just completed this spring 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 aimed at decreasing ACL injuries among female high school basketball players. 

According to Wes Spencer, PT, ATC, director of Injury Prevention and Sports Performance Enhancement at USM, much speculation exists on the cause of a higher injury rate in females—hormones, biomechanics, environment—but researchers have been unable to definitively pinpoint exact causes or develop strategies to successfully reduce ACL injury occurrence among females.

“For the first time, we have documented research that shows that specific stretching, strengthening, flexibility and balance exercises can significantly reduce injury rates,” Spencer said. “PEP 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.”

USM trainers are now implementing the PEP program for varsity basketball programs at 10 area high schools.  It consists of a supervised warm-up program completed two to three times a week that includes exercises and training to increase muscle strength, plyometrics (active strengthening like jumps), agility, balance and flexibility.  The program takes about 20-25 minutes to complete.

“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.”

The 10 participating high schools are: Pittsford Sutherland, Fairport, Penfield, Greece Odyssey, Greece Athena, Greece Arcadia, Greece Olympia, Wheatland-Chili, Eastridge and Brighton. 

Background on ACL and PEP 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.

Sample PEP Exercises

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

For more information on the PEP program, call University Sports Medicine at 341-9150.

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