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Female athletes more prone to suffering ACL injuries

June 23, 2013 Updated: June 23, 2013 at 6:25 pm
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photo - Laura Broerman is the third girl in her family to have trouble with her ACL. She was attending a volleyball camp in Monument at Junior Volleyball on Friday, June 21, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Laura Broerman is the third girl in her family to have trouble with her ACL. She was attending a volleyball camp in Monument at Junior Volleyball on Friday, June 21, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

The time had finally arrived for Kylee Berry. Or so she thought.

Heading into her junior season at Air Academy, the guard was in line for significant playing time, one year after watching a senior-laden squad steamroll the competition en route to a 4A girls' basketball state title.

But in a second, her season ended before it started. Nothing casts a pall like four to six months of rehab after hearing the diagnosis of a torn ACL.

"Being so close to the season, I thought the world was going to end," Berry said. "It was hard watching and not being able to play."

Berry is far from alone when it comes to suffering one of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee. According to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, approximately 150,000 ACL injuries occur in the United States each year.

The chances of suffering serious knee injuries skyrocket in young female athletes. The AOSSM estimates those chances are two-to-eight times greater among female soccer and basketball players as compared to their male counterparts.

The main culprit in females' prevalence to knee injuries lies in the changing anatomy of their lower bodies.

"With the onset of puberty, their hips are wider and their knees are narrower," said Colorado Springs orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Walden, a 1979 Wasson graduate who performed ACL reconstruction surgery on Berry. "It's definitely true women have a much higher rate of ACL injuries. Just from my experiences, I see women much more than men, at a rate of at least three to one."

As females' hips widen, so does the Q-angle - the angle from hip to knee. That changing skeletal position, nonexistent in boys, can make simple activities, such as jumping and landing, potentially hazardous.

Thanks to the popularity of the NFL, many people associate ACL tears with high-impact sports and direct contact to the knee. That actually accounts for the lower percentage of ACL injuries in high school athletes.

"Most of the ACL tears I've seen are noncontact," Walden said. "They happen primarily when the foot is planted, then the upper body goes in a different direction, or any time when one is changing direction quickly."

That's how Berry was hurt.

A similar occurrence to St. Mary's senior Laura Broerman took away the first half of the then-senior's volleyball season.

"I felt like everything stopped, except for my knee," said Broerman, who suffered her injury playing club basketball in late May, but returned to the high school volleyball court in October. "My knee kept going. It was more than just the pain. Mentally, it was one of the worst feelings ever, knowing that I was not going to play volleyball for a long time. I had to get over that quickly and not dwell on it."

That's the same attitude Berry employed during her rehabilitation, one that is becoming nearly a rite of passage as more and more teenage girls take to the field, and court, sometimes year-round.

So, aside from anatomy, is the overworked athlete part of the problem?

One man says yes.

"I see overuse as a big factor," said Bob Tim, who recently retired after 27 years as Widefield strength and conditioning coach. "Kids nowadays want to be involved in two or three sports, so they're practicing two to three times a day. They don't give their bodies time to recover and get muscle fatigue. No matter how strong they are, if you have fatigue, those muscles might not be strong enough to support the ACL. That, as I've seen, can support a greater chance of injury."

Broerman, a multisport athlete, isn't so sure.

"I never felt overworked," said Broerman, who signed to play volleyball at Penn State after recovering from the injury. "There was talk about me not playing basketball last year, to make sure the knee was totally back. That wasn't something I was willing to give up. I actually think playing multiple sports actually makes me a lot stronger because I am doing something every day."

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