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The Carletonian

How to prevent knee injuries in college

<rld of collegiate athletics, the reality of sustaining a serious injury is a risk all athletes must consider when committing themselves to high-level competition. While it’s impossible to ensure an athlete’s complete safety during play, it is possible to take preventive steps prior to competition in order to reduce the chance of injury. Strengthening and warm-up exercises are essential to protecting athletes, especially given the unfortunate commonality and severity of knee injuries that occur among varsity athletes. This past fall season alone, the Carleton women’s soccer team suffered two torn ACL’s, a stretched ACL, and a torn PCL. These season-ending knee injuries are devastating for the athletes, and undoubtedly take a toll on a team’s overall dynamic.

The ACL, an abbreviation for the anterior cruciate ligament, is the tissue that connects the shinbone to the thighbone in the knee. While the smallest of the four main ligaments in the knee, it serves the most important function of the primary stabilizer and allows for rotational movement. For straightforward activities, such as jogging, the ACL is not involved. ACL tears are most common in sports such as soccer, basketball, football, tennis and skiing, where movements such as planting, cutting and changing direction are continually required.

Despite being a common injury in contact sports, about 70% of ACL tears occur from non-contact incidents. For example, a player pivoting awkwardly or tripping and twisting the knee with force can cause the ACL to tear. In cases of non-contact injuries, women tear their ACL’s at a rate five times higher than their male counterparts.

Dr. Darrell Ogilvie-Harris, an orthopedic surgeon currently working at Toronto Western Hospital as Chief of Orthopedic Surgery, has over 35 years of experience reconstructing ACL’s. Specializing in sports medicine, Ogilvie-Harris was the team physician for the Toronto Maple Leafs professional hockey team for 15 years, as well as working for the National Ballet of Canada for the past 20 years. He acknowledges the severity of ACL injuries, and when playing at the collegiate and professional levels, believes a proper warm-up is of the utmost importance for injury prevention. Dr. Ogilvie-Harris recommends and is an adamant supporter of the program FIFA 11+.

FIFA 11+ is an injury prevention program proven to reduce the chance of injury and improve long-term health for players. Developed and published in 2008 to minimize injuries among soccer players, FIFA 11+ provides a thorough warm-up consisting of 15 exercises. Categorized by running exercises and plyometric and balance exercises, the warm-up covers cutting, acceleration and deceleration, landing techniques, eccentric control and strengthening drills. This injury prevention program first proved its effectiveness amongst young female athletes. When these warm-up activities were performed at least twice a week, females aged 13-18 found a reduction of up to 50% of ACL related injuries. Injuries amongst males aged 18-25, which included American male athletes competing in NCAA Division I and II athletics, found a reduction up to 40% of ACL related injuries. The program has also shown long-term benefits, such as improved neuromuscular control, functional balance and increased knee, hamstring and quadricep strength. While FIFA 11+ displayed effective results when performed by teams two to three times per week, it is recommended that the warm-up be performed before all practices and games.

While this warm-up appears to provide an optimal solution to injury prevention, the question of its practicality arises at a school like Carleton. With their demanding schedules, Carleton student-athletes are generally short on time. With limited times for field space, as well as many student-athletes going straight from class or other commitments to play their sport, the time available for a thorough warm-up is restricted. Prior to games, teams on average find themselves with a 40 minute warm-up window. While a brief running and stretching warm-up is incorporated, many teams prefer to jump into drills as soon as possible in order to get increased touches on the ball and review specific plays. Spending at least half the warm-up time on running, strengthening, and stretching drills may not be an ideal pre-game routine for some teams. However, if this is the answer to individual injury prevention, and by extension the continued good health of a team, it could prove to be the most beneficial option for everyone in the long-run.

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