Training May Curb Some Sports Injuries In Women Female athletes are more prone than their male counterparts to certain injuries — namely knee problems and tears to the ACL. A prevention program has been developed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati to curb these injuries.
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Training May Curb Some Sports Injuries In Women

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Training May Curb Some Sports Injuries In Women

Training May Curb Some Sports Injuries In Women

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is the program that brings you news from around the world, and also news about your life. And on Thursday mornings like this one, your health. This next report takes us to a soccer field near you, where young women players are more prone to injuries than men.

In particular, women have a high rate of serious ligament tears in their knees. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have come up with a prevention program aimed at keeping girls in the game. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY: If you've ever wondered how it's possible to experience both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all in the course of one moment, meet soccer player Katie Landgrebe. A few years ago, she scored the winning goal in a tournament game.

Ms. KATIE LANDGREBE (Student, Soccer Player): I was on a break-away with a keeper, and we were tied one to one.

AUBREY: Just as Katie kicked the ball into the goal, she collided with her opponent, and her femur bone cracked.

Ms. K. LANDGREBE: I, like, fell down, and, like, everyone cheered, and then everyone was, like, oh no. What happened? And so it was pretty disappointing. I think everyone was kind of shocked.

AUBREY: In the course of rehab at the Children's Hospital in Cincinnati, where she lives, Landgrebe started training with some researchers at the university who'd been focused on figuring out exactly why female athletes are more prone to knee injuries. Tim Hewett directs the program.

Mr. TIM HEWETT (Cincinnati Children's Hospital) So we've got about 30 girls training in the room, and what we're doing now is we're doing forward, multiple forward hop-and-hold exercise.

AUBREY: As the girls go into deep, one-legged squats, Hewitt explains that just after boys go through puberty, they tend to get a big power burst, as well.

Mr. HEWETT: They get much bigger gluteal muscles, much bigger hamstring muscles.

AUBREY: But with girls, there's not as much of a power spurt, and puberty brings a tendency towards favoring selective muscles.

Mr. HEWETT: Women tend to be very front dominant. They use their quadriceps, those big thick muscles at the front of their thighs. That's how they control their knee joints.

AUBREY: This means that women fully turn on or activate the muscles on the back side, namely the hamstrings and the glutes.

Hewett says on the soccer field or basketball court, this is a problem. First off, the imbalance of muscle use - something Hewett calls a muscle turn-on pattern - ends up putting stress on the ACL.

This is the ligament that runs through the center of the knee joint, linking the upper leg bone with the lower one. Tearing an ACL - which women are up to six times more likely to do - is brutal, and it'll keep you out of sports for six months.

Mr. HEWETT: So these compensatory muscle turn-on patterns actually lead into the injury risk problem.

AUBREY: The good news is that, through training, Hewett says women can learn how to turn on and really activate and strengthen their under-used muscles, but it doesn't happen in one or two sessions.

Katie Landgrebe's mom, Sue Landgrebe, says she nudged for Katie's whole high-school team to get training this year.

Ms. SUE LANDGREBE: Last year, the Madeira soccer team had at least three - at least three, maybe it was four girls go down with ACL tears just in the one season. And that's just uncalled for. That shouldn't happen.

AUBREY: Since all the understanding about gender differences is fairly recent, it's only now that evidence-based prevention programs are being developed. And Hewett says to get the benefit, he's had the Madeira High School girls' soccer team in training eight weeks this summer.

Mr. HEWETT: Okay, nice and deep. Hold, hold, deep hold. Do you feel it turn your hamstrings on? Good.

AUBREY: In order to change the way these girls land, jump and kick on the field, Hewett says they need lots of repetition.

Mr. HEWETT: Basically, ACL injuries don't happen when you have your knee flexed deep. So what we're doing is we're teaching them here to get deep into a flexed position, turn on all the muscles on the back side of their leg, at the same time, controlling, stiffening their core.

AUBREY: The heavy demands of the training match the stepped-up demands these girls face on the field playing competitive soccer. It's still early in the season, but so far, Katie Landgrebe and her team are undefeated and injury free.

Ms. K. LANDGREBE: I'm much stronger and just more ready to play.

AUBREY: The first injury of her soccer career has made her much more aware of how to prevent a more serious one. Now, hopefully, her whole team will benefit. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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