Doctors are noticing an epidemic of ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) tears among female athletes. Women are experiencing up to 6 times more ACL injuries than their male counterparts. The ACL is a ligament within the knee that controls motion and provides stability. During activity, the ACL works to keep the knee and the lower leg aligned, while discouraging hyperextension (where the lower leg advances farther than the knee can tolerate). ACL tears are usually associated with contact sports, such as basketball or soccer. It has become increasingly prevalent among athletes participating in non-contact sports that contain jolting movements to the knee, abrupt stops, and quick turns, like the movements practiced in gymnastics.
ACL tears are extremely painful and often require surgical intervention. Surgery is often followed by months of rehabilitation. Women who undergo both surgery and rehabilitation are unfortunately still at a high risk of developing Osteoarthritis later in their lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have evaluated, and promote a program called PEP (Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance). The program was developed through the Santa Monica Orthopedic and Sports Research Foundation. PEP focuses on strengthening all of the components of the knee through a warm-up routine that includes balance, agility, strength, and stretching exercises. The program stimulates other muscle groups to work simultaneously, which increases balance and coordination, while preventing injury. Studies have shown that athletes who have incorporated the PEP program into their training have seen a dramatic decrease in ACL injuries, and an increase in overall performance. In fact, one study that followed over 60 female soccer teams showed a 41% decrease in ACL injuries while incorporating the program into their practice. The same research team found a 70% decrease among non-contact athletes using the PEP program.
Female athletes need to protect themselves from injury. The injury itself is painful and may take you out of the game, but it may have lasting results on your body. If you, or your team, do not have a program that encompasses that of the PEP program, you may want to talk to your coach or your personal trainer. Simply adding fifteen minutes to your training may allow you to prevent injury and reach your goals.