The likelihood is high that your child has or knows someone who has torn the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in their knee. Statistics show that between 1-in-50 and 1-in-100 female athletes will tear their ACL, keeping them off the field or court for almost a year. With surgery and rehab, the ordeal can cost a family tens of thousands.
If someone, as a parent or a coach, could prevent that traumatic injury, shouldn’t they? That’s the message from Summitt Physical and Occupational Therapy Center which is holding its first clinic for girls in grades 7 through 12 showcasing injury prevention strategies and techniques this Saturday, “teaching these girls how to move, how to land, how to jump safely so that they are less prone to injuries and specifically, those ACL injuries,” Doctor of Physical Therapy, Lisa Lavrey, explained. The Summit team says female athletes and their coaches need to know the proper prevention techniques and stretching/warm-up exercises to reduce injury in the first place.
“We don’t want to have the athletes after the ACL surgery,” Jamie Bucciferro, physical therapist, said. “Our job is to help prevent the injury from happening before.”
Lavrey says the office has its hands full with “hundreds” of ACLs injury patients a year.
“If you’re here 3 o’clock to 5 o’clock, you may see six ACL injuries from local schools in this clinic -- daily,” she said.
Lavrey says that while most families might be drawn to seek medial rehabilitation in Buffalo or Rochester, she insists that Summit’s team is experts in handling ACL injuries because of their training and experience in that particular field. In the MedTech Center across from GCC, Lavrey, Bucciferro and Jim Tracer are trained in a system called Sportsmetrics, an injury prevention program designed for girls, developed by the Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Research Center. Lavrey cited studies which showed that the Sportsmetrics System can reduce ACL injuries up to 72 percent. In fact, Bucciferro, a Batavia High Class of 2005 grad, has suffered two ACL injuries. After the second one she rehabbed with the jump program and says it made all the difference in returning her to sports action.
Lavrey and Summit want to see more girls get involved with the jump program because of its proven benefits with injury prevention. However, that hasn’t always been easy, so they also stress the other benefits of the program which include making girls better athletes: increasing jump height, strengthening cardio endurance, and decreasing ground reaction forces.
“Everyone thinks they’re not going to get injured -- they’re superheroes and it’s not going to happen to me,” Lavrey said. “Sometimes if I say, ‘I’m going to teach you how to keep yourself from getting injured,’ maybe that’s not the best way to get these athletes, but if I say, ‘I’m going to make you quicker and I’m going to make you better than the next girl,’ then maybe we’re going to get more of these girls to come out and teach them more of these injury prevention tactics.”
These injuries increase as girls become more serious with sports – in joining club teams or doing offseason training, particularly since so many girls are specializing in one sport at a young age which puts stress on the same repeated muscle movements. The Summit team wants to get the word out to girls, their parents and their coaches, that simple prevention training can change the statistics.
So why target girls in Genesee County? Lavrey says girls are four to six times more likely than boys to sustain an ACL injury.
“You think about your hips being a certain distance so when girls jump or take off from a landing their knees come in to what’s called a valgus position, a very unsafe position for the knees (with the knees pointing inward), and that’s usually when that ACL injury’s going to occur, that quick in-and-twist rotation moment. Girls cannot control the ground reaction force when they take off or land like a male athlete who is kicking in his hamstrings.”
“Some of those factors are things we can’t change,” Lavrey said. “We can’t change that you’re female; we can’t change that your hips are a different distance. But there are some things we can change. The fact the females are more quad-dominant, versus hamstring-dominant like the male athletes -- our hamstring acts to assist the ACL -- so if we can teach these girls to activate their hamstrings versus firing off with their quad, then they’re going to be safer.”
The rates of re-injury are also particularly high which the program can combat. The post-op athletes go through the same six-week jump program that the injury-prevention athletes go through to help the end the cycle that, for many girls, can happen multiple times.
“The rates of re-injury for the other knee are high, too,” Lavrey says, “for many different reasons. One, your body was already pre-disposed which is why you have the original injury, and two, if you go back and you’re now favoring one knee over the other certainly that’s going to put you at a risk, so when we put a post-op ACL – 7 or 8 months – back on the field, we have done so many neuromuscular jump training activities, the six-week program, so ideally, our hope is that they’re going back even stronger than before.”
One of Summit’s goals is reaching athletic departments at local schools so they, too, can help prevent serious knee injuries. With the program’s success, Lavrey says she desires to see it implemented at area schools.
“If that’s what the studies are showing, why are we not doing this? Why are these not a mandatory thing for these high schools?” Lavrey said.
Lavrey says the main message to parents, girls and athletic departments is that what it takes to prevent injuries – the 20 minutes of pre-practice stretching as part of the WIPP program and the six-week jump program -- is exponentially easier than going through the ordeal of an ACL tear.
“When you have that athlete come in on the crutches and their mother’s looking at you and they’re looking at you in tears and they’re saying, ‘What happened? What happened?’ and we have to say, ‘It’s an ACL. You’re off the field this year,’ and it’s heartbreaking. If we can save one or two athletes from having to go through this, that’s what we’re looking to do.”
The event at John Kennedy School from 9 a.m. to 1 costs $10 per student. Call 344-5278 for more information.