Girls' soccer ACL injuries are preventable

by Kristin Cantu on February 18, 2010

girls soccer gameMore girls are playing soccer than ever and as you can guess, that means more girls are suffering from soccer-related injuries. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine takes a look at a Swedish research exercise program designed to help girls prevent one of soccer’s most common injuries – a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

The study’s participants (all female soccer players) showed that over the course of one season, those who participated in the exercise program suffered fewer injuries and those that did sustain injuries were ones that were less severe.

We talked to Children’s orthopedic surgeon, Martha Murray, MD from Sports Medicine about this study and the research she’s currently working on in the field of ACL repair.

Are girls more likely to injure their knees playing soccer than boys?

Girls are five to eight times more likely to get injured than boys. We don’t know the reason for this, but experts have theorized reasons ranging from hormonal and anatomical differences to differences in training techniques. Injury is very common in women just after puberty, after the girls have had a growth spurt. During this time, girls get taller, but they don’t automatically get the stronger muscles needed to keep the longer legs stable. When they’re playing soccer, it’s a mismatch of what their bodies are being asked to do and what they are capable of. On the other hand, boys typically get a boost in muscle mass as they are getting taller and thus their knees may be more protected.

But, fortunately, we’ve learned that girls can overcome this problem to a large extent by training their muscles, especially during and after puberty. Training can help to improve muscle strength, flexibility and coordination, and subsequently reduce their risk of injury. This is what the Swedish researchers did with their study on girl soccer players. We’ve been using this sort of program in the United States for about 10 years and it’s nice to see these sorts of studies being performed in Europe as well.

What sort of time commitment do these injury prevention programs entail?

It depends on the program. Some are longer, such as the program that Tim Hewitt, MD – who is a pioneer in this field – of Cincinnati Children’s developed. This is a six-week preseason training program. However, other programs, such as the PEP Program from the Santa Monica Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group, can be performed in the same amount of time as a traditional practice or game warm-up.

Only 1-2 percent of soccer programs in the United States use these injury prevention programs. What can be done to encourage more programs to participate?

stockphotopro_57089032LYZ_no_titleIt’s largely a question of getting the word out there. Many people haven’t heard of an ACL injury until they have one. While most college level programs participate in the regimens, it is rarer at the high school or middle school level. Getting the message out that these programs are available and can be performed often with little or no special equipment could help a great deal. Several local physical therapy groups that specialize in adolescent athletes also offer teaching of these injury prevention programs for teams and individual athletes.

What is the status of your ACL work currently?

We’re always trying to find better ways to treat patients with ACL injuries. We work on studying ACL cells and tissues in the laboratory and on researching new surgical techniques. Several of these have already translated into our clinical practice and how we do surgery. Other parts of our research, like getting the ACL to heal itself after it tears, are pretty far from being translated to the clinic, but we still think they are important to work hard on.

Use this knee injury prevention program for your child.

Read about ACL surgery for young athletes.

Did you know that girls who play sports grow up into women who have better educational, work and health prospects?

1 comment

  • Moriah M

    I found the statistics of this article very frightening. As a female soccer player who has torn her ACL, I feel that had I been prevented with some of the techniques presented in the article, my tear could have been prevented. I am very happy to see that people are investing money and research into finding ways to prevent these tears, for I would never want to have someone experience what I did, especially not young females that want to peruse their athletic dreams.

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