The Dreaded Knee Injury More Likely to Sideline Female Athletes

Niya Mitchell, 21, knew immediately that something had gone wrong with her left knee when she came down from a rebound during a Texas Southern University basketball game in November 2017. This was not the first time Mitchell had torn her ACL, so she had a good idea of what was happening.

Mitchell is now over six months into her recovery process after back-to-back surgeries on her knee, attending frequent physical therapy sessions with the team at Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute.

A Neuromuscular Training Program to Prevent ACL Injuries

Specialists  at the Institute say female athletes are at least five times more likely than men to suffer a major knee injury, most commonly the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). While there is no definitive cause, experts attribute this to anatomy, biomechanics and hormones.  Fortunately for Mitchell and other female athletes, the Institute has developed a program to help keep this injury from happening again.

“The Institute offers a specialized neuromuscular training program,” said Chris Juneau, physical therapist with Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute. “These programs have been shown to be effective in lowering the risk of tearing or re-tearing the ACL. The program helps to strengthen the knee joint, and improve balance and techniques for jumping and cutting.  Strengthening the muscles that surround the knee – including the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip abductors and glutes – is also important when it comes to preventing ACL injuries.”

In general, the incidence of ACL injury is higher in people who participate in high-risk sports, such as basketball, football, skiing, and soccer.

Juneau has been  working frequently with Mitchell during her recovery process.

“Getting back from an ACL tear is a long process,” Mitchell said. “The trainers at Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute don’t just help you with the physical rehab, but also the mental part. I can tell that I’m not just getting back to where I was before the injury, but better than I was.”

Chris Slocum, senior performance coach with Athlete Training and Health, who also provides services at the Institute, describes the different elements that make up a knee-injury prevention program:

  1. As athletes play sports, they move in all types of directions, so it is important to train and perform dynamic movement in all planes of movement.
  2. In most sports, athletes are on a single leg, whether that is during running, shuffling or jumping. When developing a knee-injury prevention program, it is important that physical therapists stress single leg strength and power.
  3. Foot positioning in dynamic movements (shuffling/jumping) is another key factor in preventing ACL injuries. This teaches athletes the most efficient way to move during dynamic movements.
  4. Fatigue plays a major role in knee injuries. It is important that athletes are conditioning to be able to handle the stress of practices and games, so they are able to maintain the maximum efficiency of their body.
  5. Most ACL injuries happen during games, when athletes have to react quickly to different situations. It is important to train the body to handle reactive movements and also create spatial orientation of the athlete’s body.

To learn more about sports injury treatments, or to find a physician who can help treat a sports injury, click here.

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