Female athletes tear their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) six to eight times more than male athletes who play the same sport. A leading sports medicine surgeon believes incorporating a jumping and landing program into a regular training regimen can help keep women on the field and out of the operating room.
"Studies have shown up to a 50 percent decrease in ACL tears in female soccer players who took part in a jumping and landing program," said Dr. Patrick McCulloch, an orthopedic surgeon with the Methodist Center for Sports Medicine in Houston. "Most of these injuries occur in sports with a lot of cutting and pivoting such as basketball and soccer."
McCulloch says many women land with their knees straight and their kneecaps pointing inward and this puts an incredible amount of stress on the ACL, while men tend to land with their feet further apart with more bend in the knees. He believes a jumping/landing program involving plyometric exercises can help women train their muscles to develop a "muscle memory" that will alert their hamstrings to fire off at the right time and help them land with a bend in their knees.
The program lasts six weeks. The first two are spent on form and control. During this phase, the athlete begins to build confidence in performing more sport-specific exercises. Weeks three and four mark the start of jumping off of a single leg. The athletes continue to focus on jump control, but they are also learning how to transition more quickly and effectively between jumps. Weeks five and six are considered the performance stage in which quickness and explosiveness are emphasized.
"The jump program not only strengthens the knee, but it also help teach female athletes the motor control required to cut, jump and land properly," said Kelly Osburn, a Methodist Center for Sports Medicine physical therapist who helps female athletes recover from ACL injuries. "Most of my patients leave physical therapy stronger than they were before their injury."
"Women's college basketball coaches usually recruit more women each year because they know one or two will most likely tear their ACL," McCulloch said. "I believe if schools and clubs would incorporate a jumping/landing program into their in-season and off-season training programs they will lessen the chances that their athletes will be put on the disabled list with an ACL tear."
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