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How Can We Reduce The Number of Knee Injuries In Female Athletes?

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The New York Times recently ran a thought provoking story by Michael Sokolove called The Uneven Playing Field . The long and short of the article was that the bodies of female athletes, especially their knees, are taking a beating playing sports.

I can speak personally about the knee injuries girls are now experiencing in epidemic proportions. Thirty six years ago, I tore my right knee cartilage playing college lacrosse. Two surgeries and three years later I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and fractured my tibia during a squash match, which required major reconstructive surgery. By the age of thirty I could no longer enjoy a game of tennis, a day of skiing or regular hikes without enduring some lingering pain. By thirty-five I no longer tried to run after my young triplet sons or jog with my dog. My knees were shot. Recently I exploded my ACL. Three consults later the general consensus was that I need a total knee replacement. I do not wish this on anyone and in the months to follow will ask each of you who have been affected to join in my national discussion.

There are three things we should do about sports safety. First, parents need to consider their child's full life cycle and be reminded not to sacrifice their child's long term health and well-being for short term athletic success. Second, youth sports safety reforms and comprehensive risk-management programs are sorely needed. Third, the United States needs to view youth sports safety from a child's rights perspective. As a society, we owe children playing sports, as in all other areas of their life, a duty of care. Best practices need to be identified, and child protection programs implemented to combat the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of our children in sports, as is done in Great Britain.

What can parents do to make youth sports safer? Three years ago I interviewed Holly Silvers, a physical therapist and the director of research at the Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Research Foundation who co- designed the PEP program, an ACL injury prevention program in Southern California. The program utilizes a customized series of warm ups and stretching, strengthening and balancing exercises, which have been proven in a number of studies to reduce the number of ACL injuries among female athletes, particularly non-contact ACL injuries.  One 2011 study even showed that the PEP program improved athletic performance as well.

If more schools spent more time teaching girls the importance of strengthening their bodies and learning the importance of cross training & balance exercises I believe we would begin to see a drastic reduction in severe knee injuries among girls.

Do you have any ideas or thoughts on ways to reduce the epidemic of knee injuries among female athletes?

Please share your ideas with us.