By Ross Ashcraft & Dawn Ikley
Men and Women are different. The differences become more and more clear the closer you look at our anatomy. The variations become more profound when we look past the skin and at the bones and muscles underneath. Women becoming more active in sports has resulted in science looking deeper into the needs women have that are different than men.
Women are twice as likely to sustain an ACL tear in sports. The ACL, is one of four major ligaments of the knee. Women are at a dangerously high risk when participating in basketball and soccer. Knee injury among females is roughly five times higher per player per hour than for males. With government legislation and the trend of adolescents to participate in a single sport year round, the number of women and the level of competition in many sports will continue to rise. The increase interest and study in both men and women is helping to lead to discoveries that can benefit both men and women.
The knee joint lies between the two rounded ends of the thigh bone or the femur. The ACL moves within the notch that connects the thigh and shin (aka the tibia). It provides most of the stability of for the knee. It prevents the tibia from moving too far forward and from rotating too far inward under the femur. Women have a narrower space between these bones than men. Less space in this area allows less trouble free movement for women. With this lack of space, the bones can pinch the ACL, as the knee bends. This pinching then leads to ACL tears. It is possible that with the help of proper strength training as well as changes in certain activities that ACL injuries can be prevented.
Neither men nor women athletes can strengthen their ACL directly; however, strength and training to the adjacent muscles of the knee, hip, and ankle can support this vital ligament and prevent injury.
Neuromuscular training has also been developed to prevent ACL tears. In general, our movements during activity are mostly unconscious. Neuromuscular training teaches your body better biomechanical movements and improved control. It trains the athlete in the proper ways to land from a jump position, pivot side to side, and move the knee without placing as much force on the ACL. Neuromuscular training attempts to break the poor habits we have formed and allow the body to move safely and efficiently.
When combined with Clinical Sports Massage techniques an athlete is truly prepared to recover from injury and get back to peak performance. Find a therapist that specializes in one of the following techniques: Rehabilitation Massage, Neuromuscular Massage, Medical Massage, Clinical Massage, Clinical Sports Massage, or Outcome Based Massage. If they are experienced and credentialed in any of these modalities they should have sufficient skills to increase your athletic performance.
The following is taken from The Santa Monica Sports Medicine Research Foundation. It is a great treatment that you can do at home. In the reference section is a link to the entire strength training routine. Try the stretch portion I’m embedding, and you’ll see how thorough this system can be.
The PEP Program:
Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance
A. Calf stretch (30 seconds x 2 reps) Elapsed Time: 1 to 2 minutes
Purpose: stretch the calf muscle of the lower leg
Instruction: Stand leading with your right leg. Bend forward at the waist and place your hands on the Ground (V formation). Keep your right knee slightly bent and your left leg straight. Make sure your left Foot is flat on the ground. Do not bounce during the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
B. Quadriceps stretch (30 seconds x 2 reps) Elapsed Time: 1 to 2 minutes
Purpose: stretch the quadriceps muscle of the front of the thigh
Instruction: Reach back with your right hand and grab the front of your right ankle. Bring your heel to buttock. Make sure your knee is pointed down toward the ground. Keep your right leg close to your left. Don’t allow knee to wing out to the side and do not bend at the waist. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
C. Figure Four Hamstring stretch (30 sec x 2 reps) Elapsed Time: 1 – 2 min
Purpose: To stretch the hamstring muscles of the back of the thigh.
Instruction: Sit on the ground with your right leg extended out in front of you. Bend your left knee and rest the bottom of your foot on your right inner thigh. With a straight back, try to bring your chest toward your knee. Do not round your back. If you can, reach down toward your toes and pull them up toward your head. Do not bounce. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
D. Inner Thigh Stretch (20 sec x 3 reps) Elapsed Time: 1 – 2 min
Purpose: Elongate the muscles of the inner thigh (adductor group)
Instruction: Remain seated on the ground. Spread you legs evenly apart. Slowly lower yourself to the center with a straight back. You want to feel a stretch in the inner thigh. Now reach toward the right with the right arm. Bring your left arm overhead the stretch over to the right. Hold the stretch and repeat on the opposite side.
E. Hip Flexor Stretch (30 sec x 2 reps) Elapsed Time: 1 – 2 min
Purpose: Elongate the hip flexors of the front of the thigh.
Instruction: Lunge forward leading with your right leg. Drop your left knee down to the ground.
Place your hands on top of your right thigh, lean forward with your hips. The hips should be square with your shoulders. If possible, maintain your balance and lift back for the left ankle and pull your heel to your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
How would YOU help an athlete? Leave a comment and tell us HOW you would handle an athletic injury!