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Rise of ACL Injuries in Women’s Sports

6 Nov 2023

The world of women’s sports has been hit by an alarming increase in ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injuries. These devastating injuries have the potential to derail careers and cause long-lasting pain and discomfort for athletes. As the Matildas’ superstar Ellie Carpenter’s recovery story demonstrates, ACL injuries don’t always mean an end to an athlete’s career, but they are far from a minor setback.

The magnitude of this problem is underscored by data revealing that more than half of the players on Carpenter’s club side, Olympic Lyonnaise, sustained ACL injuries in a single competitive season.

The ACL is a crucial ligament that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone and plays a vital role in stabilizing the knee. ACL injuries often occur during sports that involve sudden stops, changes in direction, and twisting movements, putting athletes at risk of a season-ending injury that necessitates extensive rehabilitation.

A key concern is the significant gender disparity in ACL injury rates. Studies have shown that female athletes are up to eight times more likely to sustain an ACL injury compared to their male counterparts, highlighting the urgent need for targeted prevention strategies. But how can we shift the focus from curing these injuries to preventing them in the first place?

One promising approach to tackling the ACL injury problem is the innovative “Prepare to Play Triple Hop Test.” This test utilizes AI technology to identify females at high risk of ACL injuries by assessing leg power and coordination.

The Triple Hop Test involves hopping, stepping, and changes in direction to assess an athlete’s leg power and coordination. This technology has been adopted by several clubs and organizations, including A-League teams, the Queensland Rugby League, the NRL’s Melbourne Storm, the AFLW’s Melbourne Demons, and international football clubs. By providing a quantitative measure of an athlete’s readiness, this test can guide prevention efforts and help tailor individualized training programs to mitigate injury risk.

ACL prevention isn’t just about the Triple Hop Test; it’s also about the training protocols that athletes undertake. Plyometrics, which include exercises like bounding and hopping, are vital for developing reactive strength and coordination – qualities that play a pivotal role in preventing impact injuries. In contrast to the misconception that plyometrics can cause injury, it has been shown that these exercises can actually help prevent injuries.

Furthermore, strength training is critical for female athletes. Given that females lose strength and muscle tone faster than males, it is imperative to incorporate strength training into their regular routines from an early age.

Coaching practices play a fundamental role in ACL injury prevention. By developing a well-rounded skill set for running, jumping, and landing, coaches can better prepare their athletes for the demands of their sports. Shifting away from an exclusive focus on quantitative performance metrics to a qualitative approach that emphasizes mastery of skills can be key to reducing injury rates.

Furthermore, a coordinated effort involving coaching, strength and conditioning, and sports science is required to ensure that female athletes receive adequate and appropriate preparation to safeguard them from ACL injuries. Research suggests that a culture of acceptance toward ACL injuries must change, and a shift towards preventing these injuries is imperative.

The 12 Best Exercises for ACL Injury Prevention