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New Ulm Medical Center

New Ulm therapists teach female athletes how to avoid knee injuries

Teenage girls are four to six times more likely than boys to tear their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while playing sports like soccer and basketball. And as more girls play more sports, the increased risk of such an injury has become a huge concern, said Shannon Barie, PT, MS, OCS, a physical therapist at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute – New Ulm.

Shannon Barie , PT, MS, OCS (back to the camera) instructs young female soccer players on the correct way to execute a lunge. This is just one of the exercises that Barie taught these athletes this summer to help them avoid anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears while playing soccer.

The ACL is one of the ligaments that provides stability to the knee. And, Barie explained, injuries to the ACL can be devastating. “It can take seven to nine months to rehab, and not all athletes return to the same skill level, often times due to fear of re-injury.”

The good news is that research has shown these athletes can be taught exercises and playing techniques to reduce their risk of injuring their knees. “The training programs have been very well tested,” Barie said.

Working with soccer teams

Since April, Barie and other physical therapists and athletic trainers from Courage Kenny have worked with the New Ulm Soccer Association to teach its players how to reduce their risk of knee injury.

“Preseason, we worked with two teams of 20 girls each,” Barie said, and they were in two age groups – 11 and 12 year olds in one, and girls 16 to 18 in the other.

The physical therapists demonstrated drills and exercises the girls could do, teaching them to jump, land and cut correctly. The goal was to avoid landing with stiff and inward-collapsed knees, as these faulty mechanics place the athlete at risk of a non-contact ACL tear. The girls were given manuals with illustrations so they could follow along during the course and refer to the information later.

If addressed correctly, an athlete can learn to move with good alignment so that she can protect her knees, Barie noted. “Your body is preprogrammed to do it one way,” she said. “But, fortunately, teenagers are pretty malleable. So, as I told the girls, if you practice correctly, you’ll get it.”

Sessions held preseason

“To help the players learn the techniques we also critiqued their form as they practiced what we showed them,” Barie said.

During the demonstration session, the girls had great questions, as did the coaches, Barie said, adding that the coaches were given videos to watch so they could remind their players what they were looking for. The therapists have volunteered to answer any follow-up questions the girls may have as they continue to practice on their own.

“The girls were taught the exercises preseason,” Barie said, “so that, come game time, it’s automatic.” She explained it takes about six weeks of practice for the techniques to become standard. Barie recommended the girls practice the exercises two to three times a week.

The program is a 15-minute warm-up and includes 19 different activities, including plyometric exercises that are designed so muscles exert maximum force in as short a time as possible. “It’s a lot of bounding and jumping, and a lot of decelerating,” Barie said.

Coaches open to program

The coaches welcomed the opportunity for the therapists to work with the teams. “That’s important,” Barie said. “If the coaches don’t put in the time and effort, it’s not going to be successful.”

Barie noted it’s easier to get the girls to buy in to the program when you tell them it will enhance their performance, which it should, rather than if you tell them it’s about injury prevention. Parents also were told about the program and have supported it. And to keep the girls vigilant, the therapists will continue to visit the teams and work with them during the season.

This fall, Barie and her colleagues are bringing the prevention program to the girls’ soccer team at New Ulm High School as well.

Barie is a member of the ACL injury prevention group within Courage Kenny Rehab. She knew this program was something she and her colleagues should bring to New Ulm. This is the first time Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute - New Ulm has offered this particular program, but Barie said it isn’t likely to be the last.