ACL injuries plague varsity athleticsThursday, October 06, 2011 By by MORGAN HINCHEY
Several Etowah sports have lost the eligibility of key players due to injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee. This increasingly common injury is nothing to be taken lightly, however, because recovery time is typically around six to eight months before clearance is given to once again participate in competitive sports. Caroline Tilton, senior, has torn the ACL in both of her knees and has consequently been unable to play for the majority of her high school soccer career. Tilton began strong, starting on the varsity soccer team as a mere freshman, but disaster struck when she experienced her first ACL tear in September 2009, during her sophomore year. Tilton was unable to play club soccer her sophomore or junior year, and it also put her out of commission to play high school soccer as a sophomore. Missing her club season as a junior as well, Tilton started the high school season of her junior year in January, healed and ready to play. Unfortunately, Tilton suffered from another ACL tear in March 2011, ending her high school season early. “The first time I tore my ACL, I couldn’t stop crying, because I felt like I would lose a major part of who I was [if I couldn’t play soccer anymore],” Tilton said. “And the second time I was even more upset, because I did not want to have to go through the whole experience again.” Very recently, two athletes suffered ACL injuries that have ended their fall high school seasons. Becca Hannigan, senior, and Reeves Johnson, junior, tore their ACLs in June and Sept., respectively. Hannigan played on the junior varsity volleyball team as a freshman, and has been a key player on the Lady Eagles’ varsity volleyball team since. The team lost a valuable asset when Hannigan’s ACL tore in June, as her injury will not allow her to play at all during her senior high school season; however, she does plan on playing club volleyball in the spring. “The recovery will be long and painful because I tore both of my meniscuses as well,” Hannigan said. “But I’m willing to stay strong, because the way I see it, sometimes things happen that seem devastating, but we can’t see the big picture or understand where that might take us.” Despite their injuries, both Hannigan and Tilton plan to either pursue collegiate or intermural athletics after high school. Johnson, the first-string quarterback for football and starting pitcher for baseball, experienced an ACL tear in September that put him out for the rest of his football season. Disappointed at the inopportune timing of his injury, Johnson accepted what happened and plans to play football for Etowah in the 2012 fall season, as a senior. All three athletes have remained positive in their attitudes, attending as many games practices as they can to cheer on their teammates. “Despite my two ACL tears, I am not ready to give up,” Tilton said. Tilton plans to play her senior season high school soccer when she is cleared in January. Johnson also plans to play sports again, as soon as possible. “I’m ready to endure the painful physical therapy, as I plan on playing baseball again in six months,” Johnson said. Surgeries and recoveries for ACL tears vary based on individual injuries, but average surgery time is 45 minutes (without complications) and average recovery time is anywhere from six to eight months. Special cases do exist, however, and are evident in Tilton’s first ACL tear. “My first surgery was an extremely rare case and caused me to have two surgeries within two days, totaling around four hours,” Tilton said. “It kept me out of soccer for a year and a half.” One coach is doing his part to try to lessen the impact of ACL injuries. John Murnan, science teacher and Lady Eagles’ varsity soccer head coach, has seen eight ACL injuries in the past 20 years, with six in the past two years. These rising numbers of ACL injuries among varsity athletes could be caused by a variety of reasons, and Murnan has several possible explanations. “Play on a turf field is typically faster-paced, allowing for more grip on the ball and a greater chance of injury,” Murnan said. Also, according to Murnan, specialization in one particular sport with no cross-training in the off-seasons could lead to physical weaknesses that could lend themselves to serious injuries. To combat these harsh statistics, Murnan holds ACL prevention training for his players during the preseason workouts and practice sessions. The training is built on three key points: strengthening, stretching and movement. Murnan has his players do several sets of lunges as well as single leg isolation activities, in order to have maximum protection against possible injuries. Stretching of leg muscles, the hamstring in particular, is also significant, according to Murnan. Finally, by having his athletes partake in movement exercises that include 45 degree cuts, Murnan maximizes the knee’s movement capabilities and reduces the injury-risk factors. While maintaining humility, Murnan laid down several facts that are hard to ignore. Not a single player that has been in faithful attendance of his ACL prevention training sessions has had an ACL injury. During the 2010-2011 soccer season, two of Murnan’s players did suffer from ACL injuries, but neither player was able to attend the training sessions, because they were both recovering from other injuries at the time. Murnan would advise other athletics coaches to conduct similar training programs to reduce the impact that ACL injuries has on the varsity athletics of Etowah High School.