Why happens during an ACL tear?
The ACL is a very important ligament in the knee that holds the top and bottom part of the leg together and when it ruptures, the knee becomes unstable, even though the ligament itself is tiny. “The A.C.L. is a small, rubber-band-like fiber, no bigger than a little finger, that attaches to the femur in the upper leg and the tibia in the lower leg and stabilizes the knee,” says Michael Sokolove, from the NY Times. This can end athlete’s careers and affect them for the rest of their life if not dealt with properly. Besides the injury occurring through physical contact, it may also take place from the range of motion in the knee. According to Jill Barker, from the Gazette, “Quick directional changes off a planted foot and sudden deceleration, place too much stress on the ACL. Jumping and landing on a straight leg also causes ACL injuries.” It is more common for female athletes to experience an ACL tear through motion then contact because female sports don't contain as much brutality compared to male sports.
Why do ACL tears occur more often in females?
Researchers are not exactly sure why knee injuries happen more to females but there are a few theories. Jill Barker from the Gazette claims that, “The most popular theory as to why women have more ACL injuries is a propensity toward loose joints. Whether it is hormonal or genetic, women seem to suffer from more knee laxity than men.” This can cause females to be more susceptible to a knee injury with the looser joints making the knee unstable. Researches from the University of Texas Medical Branch point out that hormones could play a role in it, “A previous investigation found that more ACL injuries in women occur during the points of their menstrual cycle when estrogen levels are high.” Aside from that, they also discovered that there was not much of a difference between the genders when it comes to knee injuries before puberty. However, once females receive their menstrual cycle, it is believed that the disproportionate amount of estrogen weakens the ligaments allowing the knee to move as much as 5 millimeters. Birth Control, on the other hand, helps to control the excessive amount of estrogen in the female's body, which would then help to prevent the ligaments from turning into an enfeebled state. But in the case that one would tear their ACL, it is a long and painful recovery.
What makes them so severe?
This injury is not only devastating for players, but can become a long term injury that will affect them in the future and if not dealt with properly, it can cause lasting knee problems. Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston state, “This injury may lead to lifelong issues with knee instability, altered walking gait and early onset arthritis.” The process of repairing the injury is not easy. Especially for females when their estrogen hormones Unlike other injuries, ACL’s can not heal on their own. In fact, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons informs the public that, “Most ACL tears cannot be sutured (stitched) back together. To surgically repair the ACL and restore knee stability, the ligament must be reconstructed.” Not only is surgery needed but also months of rehabilitation if an athlete would like to return back to their sport. It is not only the players fault, but partially the coaches.
What could coaches do to help prevent knee injuries for their players?
For starters, coaches need to have a full understanding that the anatomy of a female's body and a males are different, allowing them to excel in different areas. Dr Letha Griffin of the Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic in Atlanta points out that, "ACL tears happen to girls that are in good physical shape and they happen because their movement patterns are not ideal...Instead of playing with their hips and knees bent, girls play more upright. And in that position, with any quick, pivotal move there is a chance an ACL may be torn." Doing specific exercises to help strengthen the surrounding muscles of the athlete’s knee is one solution. Bethany Woodcock from Women’s ENews verbalizes, “Sarah Carver, a certified athletic trainer who works with the school in all sports, uses squats, lunges, quad/calf/hamstring exercises and jumping/landing activities for the most effective prevention in ACL tears.” But one must begin these exercises early on when the athlete is younger to receive the most effectiveness possible. Getting the knowledge and precautions to athletes early on is very important.
What is being done to help eliminate this problem?
Informing athletes how crucial prevention is of this injury is a priority. Lindsay Berra from ESPN mentions that, “Griffin's AAOS and Albohm's NATA joined forces in March to release a public service campaign aimed at educating athletes, coaches and parents on the ease and importance of ACL injury prevention.” Bringing awareness of the dangerous that are at risk and emphasizing prevention against it may help to decrease the high rate of ACL tears. But that will not be possible without correcting the techniques of the athletes while playing. The American Physical Therapy Association claims, “To combat these natural tendencies, physical therapists may develop a treatment program to improve strength, flexibility, and coordination, as well as to counteract incorrect existing patterns of movement that may be damaging to joints.” Only then can we see change in the numbers of athletes suffering from ACL tears.