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Past articles:
  • Candace Parker dunks!

  • Michigan Playoff Results

  • WNBA Teen Advisory Board

  • St. Ann's girls' team

  • Leslie Gball's Player of the Year

  • Hitting the last-second shot

  • Scholarships,
    Part I

  • Scholarships,
    Part II

  • Media Coverage of Girls' Sports

  • Carleton hoopsters visit Thailand

  • National Girls and Women in Sports Day

  • Improving Agility

  • Lisa Leslie wins Flo Hyman Award

  • March Madness

  • New Trier High School

  • Hoops & Heroes Awards

  • High School Champions

  • One Nation, One Flag, One People

  • Amateurism

  • Cross Court Options

  • Coaching Boys

  • WNBA 2001 Rookies

  • Protecting Your Knees
    Too often, you hear about lady hoopsters blowing out their knees. Here's what that means and what you can do to prevent it.

    You may have heard of ACL tears. Unfortunately, they're constantly in the news, and it's never good news.

    Many of the highest-profile players, especially in the women's game, have torn their ACLs, including Sheryl Swoopes, Erika Valek, Tamika Catchings, and Niele Ivey to name just a few. So, what exactly is an ACL, why is it torn so easily, and what can you do to help prevent tearing it?

    ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament. Ligaments connect bones and help keep joints stable. The ACL is one of four ligaments at the knee that together connect the top of your leg to the bottom of your leg. Primarily, it helps prevent the tibia (the larger of two bones connecting the knee to the ankle) from moving too far forward.

    This year, in the U.S. alone, an estimated 80,000 people will tear their ACLs. Most injuries will occur among women 15 to 25 years old. And most of the injuries will be non-contact, meaning the athlete makes a cut or comes down from a jump and the knee just snaps.

    How does this happen? It starts with an unstable ligament, mixed with a movement that is too much for the knee to handle. It often occurs when a player comes down from a jump and her momentum causes the knee to overextend.

    There are a few theories for why women are about six times more likely than men to tear their ACLs. Some think that hormones are involved. Women's hormones fluctuate on a monthly cycle and researchers have found that there are receptors for estrogen--the primary female sex hormone--in the ACL itself. Unfortunately, it's not clear what effect estrogen has on the ligament, so there's no real proof yet that it somehow makes women's knees more susceptible to tearing.

    Women are also anatomically different than men. Their knees tend to be more out-turned. To see this, look at a full-body photo of a female athlete head-on. Draw a line from the bottom of the spine to the knee and another line from the knee to the top of the ankle. The angle made by these two lines is called the Q-angle, and most women have a greater q-angle than men.

    Finally, women also tend to cut, jump, and land slightly differently than men, because they use their leg muscles--namely, the quadriceps and hamstrings--differently. The quadriceps is a group of muscles at the front of your thigh that help you extend or straighten your knee. The hamstring muscles on the back of the thigh help you bend your knee.

    Researchers have found that the hamstring-to-quad ratio is low in most women, even elite athletes. This means that when they land from a jump, female athletes tend to use their quads more than their hamstrings--and they use them much more than male athletes do. Instead of the muscles controlling the knee, too often the ligaments are being called on to do that. And sometimes they just can't take that strain, so they snap.

    Well, you can't do much about your hormones--even if they were proven to actually be involved in ACL tears. You can't do much about your basic anatomy--which you wouldn't want to change anyway, because it has its advantages. But you CAN work to strengthen your hamstrings and train your body to instinctively land more safely.

    The University of Tennessee Lady Vols have included so-called "jump training" in their program for years. Those athletes are among the best in the game year in and year out. You may have noticed that their training doesn't make them immune to knee injuries--nothing can do that. But a study published in 1998 looking at the benefits of jump training showed that a simple six-week program can make you two to four times less likely to tear your ACL. Not only did it reduce landing forces and decrease the amount of side-to-side twisting that occurs when you land, participants also increased their vertical jump by about 10 percent.

    There are three elements to the program: weight training, stretching, and plyometrics (which are explosive-type drills that develop strength and coordination while jumping and twisting). By strengthening your quads, becoming more flexible, and repeatedly jumping while concentrating on controlling your landing, you can decrease your chances of serious knee injury and at the same time become a better player. You're going to want to get your coach involved before you start any program like this, but for more information, go to .

    The Sportsmetrics™ program was developed by researchers at the Cincinnati Sportsmedicine Research and Education Foundation. You can purchase a manual and video from their Web site.

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