ACL spells trouble for prep athletes

Clovis junior Roxanne Luera (20) sits at the end of the bench during a timeout in Friday’s game against Lovington. Luera likely tore her ACL two weeks ago in a game at Roswell Goddard. CNJ photo by Rick White.

Kevin Wilson

It was a play like any other for Megan Kabrick. The Portales High School sophomore was trying to prevent teammate Roni Gomez from getting screened in a December game against Santa Fe. The 5-foot-10 post jumped in the way, hyperextending her left knee in an ensuing collision.

But this play wasn’t like any other. From the minute she tried to walk the pain off, she knew this time was different.
“It felt like somebody came up from behind and hit me in the knee with a hammer,” Kabrick said. “It felt awful.”

Kabrick’s story is one of a kind, her injury anything but. Tests would later reveal that she had a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Commonly referred to as the ACL, the ligament connects the upper leg bone (femur) to the lower leg bone (tibia) and crosses with the posterior cruciate ligament to stabilize knee movements, according to webmd.com.

Dr. Joel Sievers practices sports medicine with Alexander Family Practice in Portales and is the team physician for Eastern New Mexico University. He estimated that he has seen about 30 ACL injuries over the last year, and all but three or four were through sports or some recreational activity (i.e. one through sledding).

The injury is usually caused by a sudden force, such as a change in direction or quick stop, that is applied while the leg is straight. That situation could occur in pretty much any sport, and it usually means the season is over for any athlete.

“Any time you have that, it devastates you,” said Clovis football coach Eric Roanhaus. “I referee basketball and I see a lot of kids wearing braces.”

That’s in addition to what he sees during football season.

The Wildcats lost three players to ACL injuries this season — Shea Chase on punt coverage, Mark Young on a punt return and Joseph Pearson while making a tackle.
“They come and go. It just runs in packs, I guess,” said Roanhaus, who remembered losing two players to ACL injuries in 1999. “We haven’t had many here.”

The basketball court has seen its share. Players with injured ACLs this basketball season include Kabrick, Clovis’ Roxanne Luera and Texico players Ashley Kidd and Ashley Smith.

The list doesn’t even count Dora junior Kassandra Clark, who suffered her injury during summer rodeos.
Each ACL injury is different, as medical experts have found countless factors.

“There are so many variables and it’s hard to say which is the main one,” Sievers said, “but they all contribute.”
Three factors that Sievers mentioned were:

>> Harder year-round training, so the ligament is worked harder and simply has more opportunity to be torn;

>> “Shoe surface interface,” meaning that shoe traction is better and the knee will give instead of the shoe (similar to injuries that happen on artificial surfaces); and

>> Muscle fatigue. “A lot of injuries happen late in the game,” Sievers said, “and that’s no coincidence.”

But is it coincidence that females seem to suffer more ACL injuries on the basketball court than men? Sievers said the genders are about even on ACL injuries, but that amount is skewed by factors like higher participation for boys (football rosters are more than twice the size of volleyball rosters, helping account for the lack of disparity) and more contact in each activity.

As far as non-contact ACL injuries go, Sievers thinks that girls are definitely higher. He figures that a panel of experts could come to several different explanations:

>> Hormones: High school girls have variances in hormones in accordance with menstrual cycles, and those variances affect the elasticity of muscles. If anything, puberty helps boys avoid injuries since testosterone builds muscles.

>> Hips: A woman’s hip will increase to account for child-bearing later in life, causing women to be “knock-kneed” and more prone to off-balance landings.

>> A mechanical disadvantage: Sievers said that men’s hamstrings will fire quicker as a protective mechanism. He said it’s been proven through research, but it’s not well-understood.

Recovery can take months or even years, depending on the severity.

“It’s like retraining your knee, retraining yourself to walk again,” said Zia volleyball player Margie Goble. Goble has injured the ACL in both of her knees and missed the 2003 season after reconstructive surgery on her right ACL.
Kabrick still has her goals — they’re just reserved for her junior year instead.

“I’m going to get back,” she said, “and I’m going to be better than ever.”