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Scars tell common story among athletes

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series on serious injuries in Ohio athletics.

Some groups have brands and tattoos as unifying marks among their members. For Ohio’s soccer players, it’s the scars on their knees.

About half of the Bobcats’ players have suffered serious knee injuries throughout their careers, whether in high school or college. The marks from surgeries stand as a uniting symbol among them, a connection forged through pain.

Female athletes are about five times more likely than men to hurt their knees, and about one in 10 NCAA women have torn their anterior cruciate ligament, said soccer athletic trainer Annika Ludewig. From the physiological anatomy to hormonal effects, a range of reasons explains the injuries.

“It all has to do with the anatomy of the female,” Ludewig said. “From the (quadriceps) angle, to hormones, to girls landing with bad mechanics. There are muscle imbalances. All these factors affect the knees.”

The difference in strength between the quadriceps and hamstring muscles cause less stability for the knee. For men, the balance in strength makes their knees less susceptible to ACL tears.

A smaller notch that connects the knee to the ACL in women also makes the chances of injury higher. Combined with how female athletes land more awkwardly on their legs, it almost seems destined for female soccer players to end up underneath the knife.

Forward Laura Dieter initially suffered a tear to all three ligaments toward the end of her high school career. She remembers jumping up for a ball and landing awkwardly before her knee gave out, much like what Ludewig mentioned about mechanics.

Ludewig said an emphasis on landing and balance in the weight room, along with strengthening of the hamstring compared to quadriceps, are steps Ohio uses to try to prevent knee injuries.

A good amount of the injuries occur while the players are just planting and cutting, and coach Stacy Strauss said she has seen about 40 percent of the injuries come from non-contact occurrences.

When one occurs during a game, Ludewig is first on the scene to diagnose the injury and send the player off for an MRI. Before surgery, muscles around the knee are strengthened.

Ludewig focuses on firing the muscles and maintaining balance during the first four months of recovery before the player starts running again. At six, they can usually practice, and it usually takes around seven for them to get back on the field.

Mentally, Ludewig and Strauss try to build up the players’ confidence as they make their way back. Through constant encouragement and advice, they do their best to reassure their players.

“We give them small, reachable goals and remind them of the progress they’ve made,” Strauss said. “‘Remember when you were in January when you couldn’t do this?’ Things like that that prove their progress.”

But once they are back, the players have to shake the initial jitters of cutting and planting on the knee they tore months ago.

“The first setback is that they will be hesitant,” Ludewig said. “It’s like the first couple strides on your bike. You’ll be rocky, but you get used to it.”

Players respond differently when they get back, Strauss said. If they relied on technicality before, the injury doesn’t affect their skills too much. But those who rely on speed and quickness have to compensate for what they may have lost.

They also react differently. Those who have gotten hurt before are better at adjusting to the situation. And with injuries being so prevalent on the team, teammates can help guide the recovered players through their pain.

For Dieter, cutting and planting came easier before the injury. And the use of a brace at the beginning of coming back slows them down while also making them a target for opponents.

“I hated it,” Dieter said. “You can’t do anything nearly as well. I wore it for about two weeks and had to get rid of it. It felt like a 10-pound weight on my leg.”

Once they become accustomed to the recovered knee, the players usually come out mentally tougher, despite the fact that they are very apt at tearing the knee again.

“They can adjust a little bit better if they work on other components of game. They can recognize if they’re not as quick or agile,” Strauss said. “They’ve come out on the other end.”

wf743006@ohiou.edu

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