In April, sports fans witnessed an event that warmed everyone’s hearts and highlighted the true meaning of sportsmanship. It also emphasized a common sports injury.
Western Oregon and Central Washington Universities are Division II NCAA schools. Sara Tucholsky, a Western Oregon senior, hit the first home run of her softball career. She over ran first base and had to reverse direction to step on the bag. That sudden movement caused her right leg to collapse and left her writhing in agony. The umpire ruled that if she could not complete her home run trot, her effort would be recorded as a single.
Two players then lifted Tucholsky and carried her to each base so the home run would be recorded. The inspiring part of this story is that they were members of the opposing team and performed this unselfish act without a second thought. Tucholsky’s injury was a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the most common serious injury in women’s athletics.
The ACL is one of four major ligaments in the knee joint. It limits movement of the lower leg and stabilizes the knee’s front-to-back movement. It is often injured when an athlete suddenly stops running or pivots on a planted foot, twisting or overextending the knee.
Dr. Thomas Trojian, team physician for UConn women’s basketball, recently published a medical review of injuries in women’s basketball and cites the reason for increased ACL tears in women as multifactorial. Proper landing techniques, imbalance between quadriceps and hamstring muscle development, and hormonal influences have all been cited as contributing causes.
Treatment is surgical for those who wish to return to activities which involve pivoting. Rehabilitation is demanding and involves strengthening hamstring muscles to avoid further injury.
New physical training and conditioning regimens will hopefully reduce the incidence of ACL tears in women’s sports. No physical program can prepare an athlete to demonstrate sportsmanship the way it was in April. That training comes from great role models and coaches who truly understand what sports are all about.
Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to learn more about this column or other sports health topics – listen to the podcast or go to the Healthy Sports blog at backushospital.org.