A simple test can determine whether young female athletes are at risk for a painful knee injury, researchers at Allegheny General Hospital have found.
Girls are statistically much more likely than boys to experience a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament, which attaches to the femur in the upper leg and the tibia in the lower leg to stabilize the knee.
About 85 percent of ACL tears are non-contact injuries. They occur primarily during sudden stopping, starting or pivoting motions.
Research indicates girls are about nine times more likely to have ACL tears than boys who play the same sports. This is in part, researchers believe, because girls are less likely than boys to bend their knees when running and jumping. Anatomical and hormonal differences and core muscle strength also play a role.
"Our knees are a little more straight than little boys' knees are," said Dr. Moira Davenport, a sports medicine physician at Allegheny General. "The muscles in the quadriceps [large muscle in the front of the thigh] fire slightly slower, and this puts greater forces on the knee."
Allegheny General's Human Motion Training Academy completed this month an initial clinical research study of female basketball players at two local high schools to see whether certain specific exercises can reduce the risk of ACL tears.
Ten girls each from Avonworth and Northgate high schools were asked to jump in the air 10 times. Certified athletic trainers examined their landings, the position of their feet while they were airborne and other factors to come up with a score for each athlete. The higher the score, the greater the risk.
After the initial test, 15 of the 20 girls were determined to be "at risk" for ACL injury.
The Avonworth girls then attended 12 sessions during which athletic trainers at the Human Motion Training Academy drilled them in proper landing skills and taught them exercises to improve balance and increase jump strength.
The girls from Northgate served as a control group.
At the end of the 12 weeks, none of the Avonworth girls were considered "at risk." All the girls in the control group who had been found to be at risk in the initial test remained in the at-risk category in the later test.
In addition to reducing the risk of ACL injury, the training his girls received increased their vertical jump between two and five inches, said Avonworth coach Bob Schulz.
"The results I've seen from this particular program are incredible," Mr. Schulz said. "The girls learned to run better, had better balance, increased speed and vertical jump."
Buoyed by its initial success, Allegheny General plans to offer the training to athletes at all 14 high schools within its service area, and to boys as well as girls.
"We're happy to bring this enhanced training regimen to students at their own practice facilities," said Craig Castor, sports medicine supervisor.
The Human Motion Training Academy is located in the Sportsplex in Green Tree. It is headed by Dr. Sam Akhavan, a sports medicine physician and a team physician for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
Jack Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1476