Women’s ACL injuries and the path to recovery

On Feb. 12, junior forward Carolyn Davis went up for what appeared to be a routine jumper just outside the lane at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan. It’s a play Davis has shot a thousand times in practice and in games.

As she planted her left side, her knee buckled causing her to collapse onto the court.

Junior guard Angel Goodrich whipped her face around and put both hands on her head. It’s something that happened to her twice before.

Davis lay motionless for more than 10 minutes; team doctors and coaches surrounded her as she sat on the hardwood floor.

“When you hear the scream you know what it is,” coach Bonnie Henrickson said.

In Henrickson’s time at Kansas, there have been six anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, but the team is also doing everything in their power to prevent these injuries, whether it’s the training staff, orthopedic surgeons or the players themselves.

With surgery now passed, Davis is focused on recovery so she can have as strong of a senior season as possible. Davis has begun the process by participating in exercises with the team while also attempting to get as much movement possible back in her knee.

Having so many ACL tears on the women’s basketball team allows Davis to rely on the expertise of not only the trainers and physicians on hand in the Kansas athletic department, but also her teammates.

Her roommate and close friend Goodrich tore the ligament twice while at Kansas. Sophomore forward Tania Jackson tore hers in high school and missed time as a Jayhawk.

“It kind of helped that I’ve been around a few of them,” Davis said. “So I kind of knew what to expect in a way. I think what helped me was there were so many people around me that weren’t going to allow me to isolate myself.”

Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson consoles junior forward Carolyn Davis after she injured her knee in Sunday’s game against Kansas State at Bramlage Coliseum where Kansas lost 43-47.

There’s plenty of evidence that shows why women are more susceptible to ACL injuries than men.

According to an article published in American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) by Dr. Timothy E. Hewett in November 2010, women are two to 10 times more likely to sustain a knee ligament injury, such as an ACL injury, than male athletes participating in the same sports.

Dr. Hewett went onto say that most ACL injuries—whether in male or female athletes—occur by noncontact mechanisms, often during landing from a jump or making a lateral pivot while running.

There are several factors to go into why women are more susceptible to these injuries.

What the Doctors Say

Dr. Larry McGee, the Kansas head team physician, and Dr. Douglass Stull and Dr. Jeff Randall, orthopedic surgeons at OrthoKansas on 1112 West 6th St, have all worked with ACL patients for the Jayhawks and provide similar theories on the issue.

Some of the factors include the following:

• General muscle strength of males over females, in particular in their quadriceps and hamstrings.

• The female’s anatomy is different from males, wider pelvises, creating different position for the knee, which results in valgus Knee. Women also tend to have a narrower notch in the knee where the ACL is placed.

• Another theory that Dr. McGee, Stull and Randall talked about, but has not been proven, hormonal differences with women and if the menstrual cycle has any factor. According to the doctors there are estrogen receptors on the ACL, which makes for increased laxatives during the menstrual cycle.

• They all concluded that there’s not an exact answer for why women are more susceptible to men in ACL injuries.

All of these could play a role into ACL injuries, but at the moment there’s no clear answer.

The Surgeon

Dr. Jeff Randall at OrthoKansas has performed dozens of knee surgeries over his 16 seasons working for Kansas Athletics.

Dealing mainly with knee injuries in the Kansas program, Randall been on hand for many of the surgeries the women’s basketball team suffered including Davis’ on March 27.

Randall is meticulous in his preparation, making sure all the necessary precautions are taken before going into surgery.

“Typically before the surgery I plan the day before,” Randall said. “I always see what people are doing. What people need to think about in the operating in that.”

Randall usually relies on an autograph technique during surgery where he takes muscle from the hamstring and then creates a new ACL in the player’s knee.

Randall said that the mark is only 2.5 to 3 centimeters wide so most of the time the mark can barely be seen on a player’s skin.

“The less invasion you’re doing going in, the easier it is on the athlete coming out,” Randall said.

There have been huge strides in the Sports Medicine field, but Randall believes the more awareness and training available, the less prevalent of a problem ACL injuries will become in the near future.

“I think you can always do more,” Randall said. “There’s new things every year and there are more people studying it and figuring it out and fine tuning it. I think as much as we’ve done more can be done.”

The person on hand

One of the people that worked with Davis and many of the Jayhawks is Ann Turner the full-time athletic trainer for the women’s basketball team. Throughout the year, Turner can be spotted testing out players on the bench as they wince at the end of the bench making sure that nothing major has happened during a game while they are injured. .

Turner came to Kansas as a graduate student after finishing up her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After two years training the swimming and diving team, she moved over to the Jayhawks women’s basketball team five years ago.

Turner worked with many of the injured players on the Kansas roster including Davis, Goodrich and Jackson on not only their ACL problems, but also any other ailments.

“Every time I have an injury I go back and re-look at what we do,” Turner said. “There’s always something to be learned from it.”

Turner realizes after helping through all of these ACL injuries that there’s more to the women’s basketball mindset than just getting them through the physical toll.

Davis has worked hand-in-hand with Turner and they both understand the physical and mental tolls these injuries take on the players.

Turner works with each individual player on what they need to do to come back as close as possible to full strength after an injury.

“She’s so positive,” Davis said. “Even when I’m having a bad day, she’s still positive. She let’s me be mad and she just keeps working with me. She wants me to get back from this.”

The main thing Turner works on with the players, when they have ACL injuries, is how to jump correctly because of the difference in anatomy between men women.

Turner said herself and strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy work together to teach the girls how to jump properly.

Turner realizes she can better help these players through this trying process with a calming personality.

“Everybody has a different range of how they handle it. Some are better than others, some can find the silver lining in the situation better than others can,” Turner said. “There’s definitely days and I tell them all that there will be moments this is horrible, but it’s OK to be angry, it’s OK to vent with me and I’m here with you to get you through it.”

Moving forward

Twelve weeks have passed since Davis’ knee injury, which puts her at about the halfway point to when she can see the court again.

On that February day, Davis left the game carted off on a gurney, with tears streaming down her face. Since then she’s been active with the team.

Throughout their NCAA tournament run she was right there with the group. She could be seen often standing underneath the basket, talking talking to every forward about what they needed to do to improve. At some points she even cracked a smile, even though she was missing some of the fun.

Davis still has a long way to go in the process of recovering, she knows the help and people around her will help her make full recovery for the start of the season in November.

“If you tear an ACL and get through it,” Davis said. “You can be so much stronger and I think that’s what I’m looking forward to being able to be a stronger person afterwards and knowing I’ll be a totally different player and a totally different love for the game.”

— Edited by Max Lush and Max Rothman, originally published Tuesday, May 1, in the University Daily Kansan

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