Keeping Young Athletes in the Game
A special program helps sports participants avoid injuries on the field.
Sports fans know that knee injuries are a common problem for athletes. What they may not know is that females are at about eight times greater risk than males for injuries to the knee in general and to its famously vulnerable anterior cruciate ligament (ACL ) in particular. To help schoolage athletes avoid these injuries, the Saint Peter’s Sports Medicine Institute prescribes PEP .
No, that’s not school spirit. It’s a nationally recognized training program called “Prevent injury, Enhance Performance,” or PEP for short. While the PEP program was initially studied and designed for females, the program can be performed with male athletes as well. Nicole Robell, D.P.T. (doctor of physical therapy), has been visiting area high schools to teach the program to soccer players and will have expanded the program to basketball teams by the late fall sports season.
The PEP program includes warm-up, stretching, strengthening, plyometrics (“jump training”) and sport-specific agility instruction. It is taught to one team at a time in order to maximize individual attention and ensure good form in each athlete.
Females are at greater risk for knee injuries for a variety of reasons, Robell says. “The way the female body is structured, specifically the angles of the pelvis and the knee, puts more stress on the joint than in males,” she says. “And the hamstring muscles in females are often weaker than the quadriceps, which places the knee at a greater risk of injury.”
“There are risk factors associated with gender that are not modifiable, but others, like strength and flexibility, can be modified to lower risks,” says Chuck Bachi, D.P.T., director of the Sports Medicine Institute. “The PEP program identifies and targets the modifiable factors, and research shows PEP does reduce injuries.” (See “The Power of ‘PEP Talk,’” below.)
The roughly hour-long class is offered free of charge to interested schools, Robell says. It starts with a light warm-up jog, both forward and backward. Then the instructor shows girls and their coaches how to properly stretch the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors and calf muscles. “I also teach the proper form when jumping, cutting and turning, and how the body should be aligned to reduce the stress on the knee,” she says.
After the training, Robell gives handouts to the coaches to help them plan and implement the entire PEP program in just 15 minutes before a practice or a game. Bachi hopes many more schools in the area contact the institute to learn about PEP .
“We’re trying to put ourselves out of business,” he cracks, “by preventing injuries before they happen.”
The Power of ‘PEP Talk’
According to research done by the Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Research Foundation in California, the Prevent injury, Enhance Performance (PEP ) program significantly reduces the incidence of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL ) injuries in 14- to 18-year-old female soccer players. In a two-year study begun during the 2000 sports season, researchers followed nearly 6,000 subjects who did or did not take the PEP training. ACL injuries were lower in the PEP group by 88 percent in 2000 and by 74 percent in 2001.