Whether you are a parent, an athlete or a coach, when you think about one of the most dreaded sports injuries for an athlete to have, the ACL or anterior cruciate ligament often rises to the top mind. All of us have either had personal experience with or know someone that has suffered an ACL injury. This topic became a huge passion for me and a part of a higher calling when I had 22 young athletes come into my sports physical therapy practice over a 2-week period with an ACLR (anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction). I knew I had to do something about it. As a master’s degree level PT, I knew I needed to know more so went back to school to do my doctorate to focus on biomechanics and motor learning. That was in the year 2000. I wanted to learn what was leading to these injuries and how could we prevent. I was determined to try to find out as much as I could, to become a part of the solution versus just treating these athletes the same way we always have. To change this trend, I knew we had to do something very different. This is one reason I have spent the last 20 years investigating ways to prevent these injuries in athletes as both a treating clinician and as a researcher. In 2017, we commercially launched a technology to assess movement patterns that we now know put athletes at risk for these injuries. Since then, we have collected data on over 20,000 athletes and have >20M data points related to movement and risk. With this level of mass data, we are learning more than we ever have before and are leading the research by ~3-5 years. In this series, I hope to share with you what we have learned and some really exciting things that are being done on the prevention side that you can implement today to make a difference.
If you ask most surgeons how many of their athletes return to sport following an ACLR, most will tell you 85-95%. That is awesome, but what does that mean? Does that may mean the athlete goes back and sits on the sidelines or plays half their regular time? It couldn’t mean that right? Most of us assume return to sport means back at the same level they were before and at 100% previous level of performance. But sadly, that simply is not the case. Looking at the research, you would think professional athletes would fair much better than most. When looking at NFL football players who have had an ACLR, what we see is that their athletic performance is decreased (decreased sprint speed, percentage of tackles is down, etc) for up to two years following return to sport after an ACLR (Mia et al Am J Sport Med 2017). Keep in mind, the mean time for return to play in professional football players is 10.4 months (Logstaffee et al Am J Sport med 2020). If you include the time it takes for them to get back to play plus their decreased performance once returned, this is a three year impact! Coaches, think what this does for your overall team’s performance if this is one of your key players! What the studies also show is that their professional career is decreased by 2 years (Mia et al Am J Sport Med 2017). This is professional athletes. Folks who have 24 hour access to some of the best health care and some of the latest technology and advances in sports science available. Folks who have rehab 2 times per day and an athletic trainer at their beckon and call. Knowing all this, it just further stresses the fact that we have to prevent the initial injury from occurring. Can we really prevent these injuries? The quick answer is, we can prevent a large percentage of these. Up to 80%. But first, we have to know what put them at risk and how do we as athletes, parents, coaches and sports medicine professionals address.
Next blog, we will start that discussion. What is it that leads to these injuries, how can we assess this as parents and coaches and what can we do about it. Hope you found this information useful and looking forward to helping you keep your athletes in the game.