ACL tears sideline female athletes

By Marta Lawrence
The NCAA News

Alexia Mickles lunged the wrong way, heard a loud crack and her softball season was over. Mickles, a soccer and softball student-athlete at Penfield High School near Rochester, New York, went to the ground holding her knee.

She had torn her anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.

Although the research varies, female athletes are two and a half to four times more likely to tear their ACLs than men, depending on the sport. Understanding the reasons behind these disproportionate numbers is “the million dollar question,” says Dr. Michael Maloney, director of the sports medicine division at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Through a local grant, Maloney is leading an effort to train area female high school athletes, including Mickles, about how to protect their knees from injury.

Athletes who enter the program are provided with a screening to determine how they jump, land, run, cut and pivot. Once the athlete’s at-risk positions have been identified, she is given a series of exercises and conditioning drills designed to retrain her muscles’ response to those activities.

In its first year, the injury prevention program reached almost 1,300 soccer, basketball and volleyball student-athletes in 26 high schools in the Rochester area. During that time, Maloney says there were five non-contact ACL tears, which he says was “a pretty low number.” Maloney typically would expect to see one and a half to two ACL tears per 100 female athletes participating in those sports.

The program wasn’t implemented in time to prevent Mickles’ original injury, but she says she’s happy she has the opportunity to participate now. “I really think it would help if every team were able to do it because I think there would be even less injuries,” she says.