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DO INJURY PREVENTION EXERCISE PROGRAMS WORK FOR WOMEN ATHLETES?

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Tid Bits of Info

  • ACL injury prevention programs have been shown to reduce the incidence of ACL tears by as much as 50%.
  • 70 – 80% of ACL injuries are “non-contact” injuries.
  • 1- 20 collegiate female athletes suffer an ACL injury.
  • Severe hamstring exercises can take months to heal.
  • Seek the advice and treatment of a Physical Therapy for an injury prevention program.

Injury prevention should be one of the main focuses of all healthcare professionals, coaches, and athletes.  No one can play a “great” game from the sidelines!  For the last several years, research has confirmed the efficacy of prevention training before, during, and after a sports season. There have been fewer studies focused on women athletes, but the results confirm the effectiveness of such programs.

Women athletes who compete in sports that require jumping, running, changing directions, and stop and go skills are more susceptible to leg and knee injuries than their male counterparts.  Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and hamstring injuries have been extensively studied. In both conditions, the athlete can be “sidelined” and out of practice and competition for up to one year or longer.

Women’s injuries to their legs and knees tend to be more severe than a male athlete’s injury.  Anatomy, muscle group strength ratio, and joint biomechanical differences are thought to be the main reason why females suffer more severe injuries.  Injury prevention programs are thought to help reduce the incidence and severity of the injuries.  These programs have grown in popularity and if done consistently are very successful.  These programs focus on educating the athlete on the proper way to land after jumping, correcting running gait, as well as strengthening the core and lower extremities through exercises and activities that are geared at developing proper neuromuscular control of the knee joint during activity.

The nervous system has to be “trained” to be able to control the musculature and joint structure.  The emphasis of the prevention program has to be placed on technique and exercise speed, initially.  The female athlete must be instructed on proper form and taught the proper positioning/alignment of their lower extremities as they perform certain activities.  Females have a tendency for their knees to move into a valgus position (“knock knees”) when they land from a jump or when they try to stop momentum and decelerate to change direction.  If the joint moves too far into that alignment, the knee joint can be injured.

injury prevention

One way to prevent this from happening is to perform exercises and drills that can train the nerves and muscles (neuromuscular activity) to be able to withstand the forces that are placed on the soft tissues of the joint.  Agility and plyometric exercises are a key component of any prevention program.  Focusing on proper form is critical!

Injury prevention programs can be developed by many different healthcare providers, but one of the most qualified is a licensed Physical Therapist who specializes in the rehabilitation of injured athletes.  These professionals can put together a program that is individualized and specific to a particular patient or team.  They can help to implement the program and teach the proper form.  It would be up to the coach to incorporate it into their in-season practice schedule.  It is imperative that the drills are performed weekly because the neuromuscular activity must remain “fine-tuned” at all times.  Taking long breaks away from the routine makes the athlete more susceptible to suffering a knee injury due to a loss of neuromuscular control.

Injury prevention exercise programs have been proven to be effective at reducing the frequency and severity of injuries in female athletes.   These programs provide the female athlete the ability to perform at a high competitive level and avoid suffering an ACL or hamstring injury.