New Program Aims to Prevent Youth Sports Injuries, Focuses on ACL

By Eliza Paradise,

More than 3.5 million youth sports injuries occur in the United States each year.

In a move to educate parents and coaches about injuries and injury prevention, the Manhattan-based Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) has launched its HSS Sports Safety program, and for its first workshops, the program is focusing on injuries to the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament.

The anterior cruciate ligament is one of four ligaments in a human knee that connect the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone). These ligaments work to stabilize the knee, with the ACL serving to prevent the tibia from sliding in front of the femur. For many athletes, this area is extremely susceptible to injury. In fact, more than 250,000 athletes in the United States injured their ACL in 2015.

ACL injuries can be divided into two main categories – contact and non-contact injuries. Contact injuries comprise about one-third of the total number of ACL injuries and occur when an athlete is hit or makes direct contact with the ground, an object, or another athlete. Joe Janosky, Program Manager HSS Sports Safety, notes there is little sports medicine professionals can do to prevent ACL injuries due to contact. “What we can do, however, is lower an athlete’s risk of non-contact ACL injuries – those that make up the majority of all ACL injuries.”

There are many factors that can contribute to a non-contact injury, many of which are rooted in the quality of an athlete’s movement and affected by an athlete’s strength, mobility, balance, and posture.  “If we can improve an athlete’s ability to jump and land or change speed and direction when running by having them utilize proper mechanics, then their risk of injury decreases significantly, “ Janosky points out. The HSS Sports Safety ACL Program has been designed to provide coaches, parents and sports administrators – the people directly responsible for the health and safety of young athletes – with tools and resources that effectively reduce the risk of ACL injury for young athletes, he says.

Angelo Pegno, senior coordinator at HSS Sports Safety, said the program’s goal is to reverse the trend of athletes getting hurt. The program consists of a series of workshops for parents and coaches where attendees learn about the program while also seeing the dynamic warm-up live.

The workshops have been held at various facilities, including the Brooklyn Nets Training Center and Asphalt Green in Manhattan. After participating in a workshop, coaches are able to create their own customized program and then reinforce proper movement when athletes perform exercises and activities designed to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. HSS also has launched a public awareness campaign called HSSafetyForTheWin, which encourages parents and coaches to promote proper movement and share pictures of the workshops and of their teams/athletes performance.

“We’re hoping to add [more programs] in the future; right now we’re really focusing on the ACL program, but there’s no reason to believe it won’t evolve into more. This is largely a grass roots effort. It’s a collaborative effort with those organization leaders to make sure everybody’s aware, and we have opportunities,” Pegno said.

Neil Potter, athletic director at Hunter College High School on the Upper East Side, has observed how injuries damage not only the individual athlete, but also the entire team. “Nothing can affect a team more than an injury because no one’s really prepared for it, and it can throw off the whole team,” he said. However, while he has seen many injuries affect Hunter’s athletes in sports such as soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and track and field, he maintains that ACL injuries are among the worst. “Obviously there are other injuries, but as far as knee injuries or ankle [injuries] go, a torn ACL is so hard to overcome,” Potter said, explaining that the recovery period is long and requires adherence to a strict schedule. Moreover, athletes who suffer from these injuries often struggle to regain confidence.

In the increasingly competitive world of youth sports, where injuries are more common and athletes cannot afford to miss out on games and seasons, the HSS Sports Safety Program is a step toward keeping young athletes in the game..

Information about upcoming workshops can be found on the HSS Sports Safety website, https://www.hss.edu/sports/sports-safety-program.htm.

Eliza Paradise is a member of our team of junior journalists. She is a 12th grader at Hunter College High School in Manhattan.

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