Avoiding Knee Injury in Female Athletes

Feb 25, 2011

Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy

by Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy

According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, girls soccer and basketball players undergo the greatest number of knee surgeries every year. Why are ACL injuries so prevalent in young, female athletes and is there anything you can do to lesson the risk of injury?
Our last post we gave you a brief synopsis of why females should train a bit differently in order to avoid ACL injuries. Outside of blunt force trauma, the most ‘at risk’ sports activities tend to be those involving jumping, pivoting and quick changes in direction such as soccer, basketball, football and volleyball.  As mentioned, biomechanical distinctions like a wider pelvis in relation to the femur creating an increased angle in the knee can’t be helped and make it harder for landing stability to keep the knees from “caving- in” during squatting or landing.  Some studies have also suggested other contributing causes such a woman’s increased joint laxity, hormonal differences and smaller femoral notch and ACL.
However, other factors in ACL injuries are:  quadriceps dominance, poor mechanics in running, landing and “cutting” (changing direction) as well as improper muscle firing patterns. These are things that can be corrected. A focused strength, balance and flexibility program, where proper motor skills are learned, will help reduce the risk of injury.
If you are a young athlete, or if you are the parent of a young female athlete, it is critical to seek out a qualified athletic trainer (ATC) or strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) to perform an ACL screen and have them implement an individualized program for you (or your child).  This is a necessary step in order to avoid possible injury which translates into time and money spent with the doctor, surgeon and in physical therapy.
The screen will generally consist of: posture and pelvic tilt assessment, static and dynamic balance, 2 feet and single leg squat, landing technique, flexibility and evaluating running and cutting techniques.
For the sake of simplicity in this forum, a good training program will consist of:

  1. A dynamic warm-up which should start with general light jogging, shuffles and then move into more sport specific movements.
  2. Balance training: 1 leg standing balance and progressing to opposite arm/leg reaches, reaches with direction and different planes of motion (to the front, side, diagonal)
  3. Plyometrics with a focus on solid landing patterns and not progressing in speed, distance and direction until basic patterns are mastered first.
  4. Strength training (especially in the hamstrings and gluteus medius)
  5. Athletic movement drills that focus on proper deceleration, keeping the body low with the knees bent (athlete position).
  6. Flexibility (quadriceps, inner thigh, calves)

If you want more details, please find a FAST facility near you. Our trainers are happy to discuss assessments and training programs that will help prevent injury and make you, or your child, a stronger athlete.

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