ACL Tears On Rise for Athletes

Athletes run, cut and change directions so constantly that it becomes second nature, but one wrong turn or awkward twist of the knee could finish their season.

“ACL tears have been happening on both my [club and school teams] a lot over the past year. It seems like every time I turn around, another girl is hurting their knee,” said junior Lady Rams’ varsity soccer player Elizabeth Hubbard.

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries affect as many as 250,000 Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Research has shown that the irritation of this ligament occurs mostly in sports that require landing and cutting, such as soccer or football. Putting strain on the knee through abruptly changing directions can severely damage the ACL, without even coming in contact with another player.

a��David Lee, physical therapist at Progressive Physical Therapy LLC in Rockville said, “Noncontact ACL tears are more common than contact, meaning no one touched [the player], they just planted their foot, changed direction and the ACL went. Versus a football player getting tackled in the knee – those are very rare.”

a��Athletes who suffer a full ACL tear can be out for multiple seasons. They usually go through reconstructive surgery in which the torn ligament is replaced with an alternative tendon in the knee.

“The surgeries have gotten so good. Back in the day with ACL tears, you were done for. Your career was over. Now, [athletes] are coming back within a year at the previous level that they had been playing,” Lee said.

The surgery is then followed by weeks of physical therapy, aimed at building lost knee strength back and allowing the athlete to gain trust in their leg again.

a��”[The recovery process] was really hard. A lot of my friends were playing soccer at the time, so it was hard watching them go to all their games and getting to do what I couldn’t do,” junior Lady Rams’ varsity soccer player Angela Barney said. Barney tore both her right and left ACLs last year.

Although it happens to a wide range of athletes, the CDC has found that females are 2 to 8 times more likely than males to injure their ACL while participating in sports.

“[Research has] found that females have less hamstring recruitment a�� meaning they’re more quad dominant. So when you change direction and your quad fires, you’re going to pull tension on the ACL,” Lee said. “Another thing is females have wider hips, just naturally. So that sharper angle at the knees also predisposes the knee to a tear.”

To prevent seriously damaging the ACL, Lee recommends plyometric exercises, which are a combination of cutting, landing and jump training. These kinds of exercises are beneficial because the ACL is most vulnerable during these actions.

After the damage is done, however, the athlete must relearn how to trust their knee strength. “I’d say both my legs are 100 percent now. I don’t really worry about it too much during games. At first, I was a little less confident. I wore a knee brace a lot when I didn’t need to, but I’m good now,” Barney said.