NCAA: it’s time to do something about ACL tears

Jacki Gemelos, Carolyn Davis, Kristi Kingma, China Crosby, Richa Jackson and Antonye Nyingifa are just a few of the many, many basketball players who have torn their Anterior Cruciate Ligaments (ACL) this year, which put them out for the season.

It’s a storyline hoops fans unfortunately know well, as female athletes have long been known to sustain ACL tears at far greater frequency than male athletes. It is estimated that a staggering 38,000 women suffer ACL tears annually – a rate that is two to eight times more than the rate for men. It seems like to many, more of these injuries have occurred in collegiate hoops this year than usual.

The disparity has been commonly attributed to one or a combination of these factors: the angle of the femur to the knee with the wider hips of females; different muscle recruitment patterns during movement and landings; and hormonal changes during menstrual cycles causing joint laxity.

Interestingly, as can be seen from the same above link, the majority of ACL tears in women occur during non-contact events, such as deceleration activities that happen when landing from a jump, or cutting. This was known at least 17 years ago.

With this in mind, it is outrageous that the NCAA hasn’t done anything to actively prevent ACL tears in its female athletes. Biology is one thing, but preventative jumping and cutting techniques can – and should – be taught. I’m sure there are some strength and conditioning coaches out there that already do this, but clearly, there need to be more. The NCAA needs to mandate that all such coaches teach proper deceleration technique to athletes. Further, they need to train head and assistant coaches to make sure that athletes follow the protocol in regular practices.

Every athlete that loses a season, or a career, due to an ACL injury is one too many. Unless widespread coaching education is implemented, the problem will continue, and may get even worse as the athleticism of the game increases significantly every year.

It is time for the NCAA to take a pro-active approach and develop a program to prevent ACL tears. Now.