New Training Programs to Prevent ACL Tears Among U Female Athletes

New Training Programs to Prevent ACL Tears Among U Female Athletes

Apr 11, 2004 6:00 PM

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears have brought an untimely end to many an athlete's season--if not career--but a new program at the University of Utah may help prevent those devastating injuries in women athletes.

About 45 U of U female athletes in soccer, volleyball, and basketball are being assessed and trained in an ACL protection program run by the U's Sports Medicine Clinic and U athletic trainers and coaches. The program is based on the latest research and on several other similar programs around the world, incorporating the most successful aspects of each, according to physical therapist and program manager Barbara Fink.

"There's a lot at stake in an ACL tear," Fink said. "Our athletes were hungry for this."

The ACL is one of the main ligaments in the knee and commonly is at risk for tearing when athletes collide, come down from a jump, or pivot to change direction. Depending on the sport, women are two to six times more likely than men to tear an ACL, Fink said.

Researchers worldwide have studied why women experience more ACL tears and have identified four factors: anatomical; biochemical; neuromuscular; and hormonal. The U program is concentrating on neuromuscular movement--the way people control movement through their muscles--as the most likely way to prevent ACL tears. One strategy involves modifying how an athlete pivots to quickly change direction.

Many women athletes naturally point their knee inward when they pivot, not keeping it directly above the toes, which can stress the ACL to the point of tearing. To prevent this, the U's women athletes are being trained to point their knees outward when they pivot, as men do, and place less strain on the ACL.

Fink and seven other physical therapists, along with athletic trainers and coaches, started working with the U's women basketball players last fall, and soccer and volleyball players early this winter. Athletes were assessed on flexibility, strength, core stability, and balance to identify those who were the most susceptible to an ACL tear. Exercise regimens were devised for each player according to her sport. Soccer players, for example, undergo a 15- to 20-minute program that can be done on the field in the place of the normal warm-up. Other exercise routines have been fashioned for basketball and volleyball athletes.

"We'd much rather prevent an injury, and keep an athlete competing, than treat an injury and lose an athlete for the season," said Robert T. Burks, M.D., associate professor of orthopedics and a physician at the Sports Medicine Clinic.

The U's female athletes do not experience a lot of ACL tears, according to Fink, but she would like to see those injuries eliminated.

Although the ACL protection program is currently being used only for the U of U's female athletes, Fink would like to expand it to help high school athletes, as well, whose skill levels and physical development can make them even more prone to ACL tears.

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