Athletic Enhancement Center helps prevent common knee injuries in females
David J. Craig
Jessie Colby always figured she had weak knees. On the soccer field,
they felt loose and wobbly and she often felt a slight popping sensation.
So the 17-year-old Needham High School senior wasn’t altogether
surprised when she suffered a hyperextension while dishing out a hard
slide tackle last spring.
Athletic Enhancement Center offers a strength and conditioning program
designed specifically to prevent knee injuries among female athletes.
Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
Although sidelined for days, Colby felt lucky not to have been hurt more
severely: several of her female friends had already torn their knee’s
anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a serious trauma that can require surgery
and several months of physical rehabilitation. A future college athlete
determined to stay on the field, Colby enrolled last summer in BU’s
Women’s Jump Training program, which is designed specifically to
prevent knee injuries.
The seven-week program, offered to women ages 13 to 25 through BU’s
Athletic Enhancement Center, strengthens the lower body, improves control
over knee movements, and enhances overall athletic ability. Essentially,
it counteracts anatomical and hormonal factors that predispose women to
serious knee injuries -- medical professionals say that ACL tears are
4 to 10 times more common among female athletes than among male athletes.
Specialized jump training programs, however, have been found to decrease
the risk of such injuries by 88 percent, according to research presented
at a recent meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Strength for health
Part of what makes women so vulnerable is the alignment of their knees:
a woman’s wide pelvis angles the knees inward slightly, increasing
the stress on ligaments on the inside of the knees when making a sharp
twisting motion. The risk of injury is compounded by female hormones that
allow for greater muscle, tendon, and ligament flexibility, but reduce
the ability of joints to endure sudden hard movements. The result is a
near epidemic of ACL tears among the increasing number of females participating
in volleyball, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics in recent years.
“The types of injuries we’re trying to prevent are noncontact
injuries, such as those that happen from twisting, cutting, or landing
after a jump,” says Dan McGovern, a physical therapist at BU Rehabilitation
Services, which began offering the Women’s Jump Training program
two years ago. When the Athletic Enhancement Center was created last fall
to provide a variety of strength and conditioning programs for serious
athletes, it took over the program, which costs participants $239.
“Our main focus in the jump training program is improving the athletes’
biomechanics,” McGovern says. “We’re targeting area
high schools because a lot of high school coaches either don’t have
the facilities or the qualified specialists to do this type of preventive
training. Also, many coaches might not know exactly why their players
are experiencing these knee injuries. But they notice they’re losing
athletes for entire seasons.”
The first thing BU strength and conditioning specialists do in the program
is assess participants’ posture, flexibility, and lower body strength,
and screen them for anatomical abnormalities, such as having greater jumping
ability in one leg than the other. “Anything out of the ordinary
picked up during the screening we address during the program,” says
McGovern. Class sizes are kept small to ensure individual attention.
The specialists then lead the women through a rigorous strengthening regimen
that relies heavily on repetitive jumping exercises. A significant part
of the program involves teaching women to move their bodies the way men
innately move theirs. “Female athletes tend to put a lot of stress
on their quadriceps when they land, whereas male athletes naturally cushion
their fall using their hamstrings as a breaking mechanism, which is what
you want to do,” says Chuck McCormick, director of the Athletic
Enhancement Center and its head strength coach. “So we do a lot
of work on the hamstrings, as well as exercises to strengthen the quads.”
In addition, the women learn to shift weight from the heels onto the toes
when landing and to keep their knees aligned rather than outspread.
“When the women know how to position their joints at the proper
angles, we then do drills where they have to catch or throw a ball while
running, or while a little bit off balance,” says McCormick. “That’s
important because you don’t just jump and land vertically in a perfectly
stable position when you’re actually playing a sport. So we’re
trying to train the body out of that comfort zone.”
The program also includes a sports psychology screening, where the participants
are rated on their ability to manage emotions during competition. During
follow-up sessions with a sports psychologist, they are invited to discuss
the emotions they feel on the field or court. “The goal is to make
the women aware of the fact that there is a connection between how we
deal with stress and our potential for injury,” says Adam Naylor,
a sports psychology coach at the center. “Sometimes stress can cause
us to focus on the wrong things, and it can cause our body to brace up
and not respond properly.”
By the end of the program, McCormick says, participants demonstrate, on
average, an 8 percent increase in their jumping ability. But the real
payoff is their long-term health -- Colby says that she no longer feels
soreness in her knees after practicing and she’s more confident
on the field. She also credits the program with turning her on to more
regular strength and conditioning training and weight work.
In fact, one goal of Women’s Jump Training is to serve as an introduction
to more intense strength and conditioning training, McGovern says. “We
haven’t really marketed the program toward BU athletes because the
University’s sports teams have very good strength and conditioning
programs of their own,” he says. “But the program would be
appropriate for serious athletes involved in intramural or club sports,
as well as students at Division II or Division III schools who are looking
for an intense, structured training program during their off season.”
In addition to Women’s Jump Training, the Athletic Enhancement Center
offers a number of programs for serious athletes. Among them are Strength
and Conditioning Plus, a high-level program that includes coaching in
sports psychology, sports medicine, and nutrition, and In-Season Total
Training, a program designed to complement the regular training regimen
of athletes during their athletic season.
BU students and faculty and staff and their families receive a 10 percent
discount on Athletic Enhancement Center programs. To learn more about
Women’s Jump Training or other programs at the center, visit www.bu.edu/aec.