Woodcreek ACL injury prevention program working ... knock on wood

No ligament tears in girls soccer since inception two years ago
By: Bill Poindexter/Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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Quinn McArthur is an orthopedic clinical specialist.

He also has a sophomore daughter, Madeline, on the soccer team at Woodcreek High School, and there were two things some years back that bothered him — one of which he could see, and one he couldn’t.

Standing out in McArthur’s eyes were two scary statistics: 1. In soccer, volleyball and basketball, females sustain 48 times more injuries than males; 2. In soccer, 70 percent are non-contact injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee.

“Since Title IX in 1972, there has been an exponential increase in ACL tears,” McArthur said as the Timberwolves lined up to begin their ACL injury prevention program, which they do for 45 minutes before practice each Monday with shorter versions before games.

What McArthur didn’t see was an injury prevention program in use, which frustrated him. In scouring the Internet, McArthur found the Santa Monica ACL Prevention Project. It was a few years old but wasn’t being used. He adapted his program from the Santa Monica Project.

McArthur knocks on wood, a lot; but so far, so good. This is the second year for the program at Woodcreek, and there hasn’t been an ACL injury in that time. Six years into his program with a local youth soccer club, there hasn’t been an ACL injury.

On the other hand, he has seen three knee injuries occur to players on other teams during games this season, though they weren’t ACL tears.

“It could be completely luck, but if this program … reduces the (injury) rates by 74 to 88 percent, why not use it?” McArthur said. “They need to be healthy.”

Four factors contribute to ACL injuries, and all occur after puberty. Girls play “taller,” McArthur said, and the ACL in girls is thinner. The space between the ends of the femur, known as the intercondylar notch, is shaped like an inverted U in boys and an A in girls. Girls also develop knock knees.

“That puts the ACL at risk. They run up, they change direction, and it just goes,” McArthur said. “Before puberty, (girls) move the same way. They’re low. They pivot like a boy. They jump; they land like a boy.”

The program addresses movement patterns — teaching players to stay low, keep the knees flexed and bent and land softly.

“That’s the crux of all of this,” McArthur said. “We teach them soon as I come up to you, I get down low so I can go wherever I have to go. That reduces the risk. Notice I don’t say prevent.”

Strengthening exercises target the hips, hamstrings, calves, quadriceps, inner thighs and more. McArthur has seen quickness and agility improvement in the Timberwolves.

Senior team captain Emily Chalfant feels the difference. Chalfant had reconstructive knee surgery two years ago. McArthur was her physical therapist post-op.

“It’s cool to have this at practice,” she said. “It builds different muscles. It’s super beneficial for everyone out here. Everybody ought to be doing it.”

Woodcreek coach Mark Bowman said he’s 100 percent behind the program.

“We are extremely lucky to have this program, in lieu of all the ACL injuries that are happening around,” he said. “It’s devastating for the kid. It’s devastating for the team. So anytime we can prevent that, we’re good with that.”

Bowman, too, blew out an ACL while playing indoor soccer and had surgery last year.

“It’s just one of those ... Wrong movement, weight shifting; your ligaments aren’t ready for it,” he said. “You can do that move 500 times, and it just takes once.”