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ACL is leading cause of sports injury for girls

Monica Boyer, Ashley Shively, Kristen Hoopes and Julia Vaughan perform exercises designed to help prevent the leading cause of injury in girls sports: tears of the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. Vaughan will miss this soccer and probably basketball season because of an ACL injury. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr).
Monica Boyer, Ashley Shively, Kristen Hoopes and Julia Vaughan perform exercises designed to help prevent the leading cause of injury in girls sports: tears of the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. Vaughan will miss this soccer and probably basketball season because of an ACL injury. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr).


Julia Vaughan wandered along the Baker sideline during Saturday's girls soccer match against Payette at the Baker Sports Complex. She scribbled notes on a sheet of paper outlining what her Baker teammates were doing on the field.

Vaughan, a BHS sophomore, would much rather have been on the field having someone else take notes about what she was doing.

A year ago that's what was happening as she helped lead the Baker girls into history as they advanced to the state playoffs in their first year of varsity play. Vaughan scored Baker's first official varsity goal on her third shot a year ago. But, during a summer match earlier this year Vaughan's soccer career took a major hit.

That hit was to the back of Vaughan's right knee.

"I'd never had knee problems before," Vaughan said.

"But playing summer soccer I was dribbling the ball and got past the girl defending me. She came from behind and tried to tackle the ball, hitting the back of my knee. I heard a really loud pop and my kneecap fell off to the side."

Even then Vaughan didn't know how serious the hit had damaged her knee. She didn't even seek immediate medical treatment.

"I waited a month thinking it would get better. But then I couldn't straighten my knee and I couldn't run," she said.

Vaughan finally had the knee checked by her family's Baker City doctor, who ordered an MRI. Vaughan said the MRI still didn't show any major damage to the knee. But, it still wasn't getting any better.

She then was sent to a specialist at the Idaho Sports Medicine Institute (ISMI), a private office located on the Boise State University campus in Boise.

After being examined at ISMI it was determined that only a thread remained of Vaughan's anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

Doctor orders immediate surgery

"The doctor wanted me to have surgery pretty quickly," Vaughan said.

In order to schedule the surgery as quickly as possible, Vaughan said, a new ligament would be taken from a cadaver and transplanted into her knee.

The procedure involved making seven small incisions in Vaughan's knee and bolting the ligament in place.

"The bolts are suppose to absorb into the bone so there shouldn't have to be any more surgery to remove them," Vaughan said.

A long road of physical therapy

She said the doctors like patients to begin physical therapy as soon as possible following surgery.

Vaughan was on crutches, bearing no weight on the leg, for just three days. She then used the crutches sparingly as she gradually began using the leg again. Then, after about a week, she threw the crutches away.

Now, Vaughan is in the middle of a rigorous therapy routine to strengthen the leg. Three days a week after school she lifts weights using a prescribed program from ISMI. She also has begun to swim with her mother, Baker Middle School principal Mindi Vaughan, two mornings a week before school.

"I'm also supposed to ride by bike as much as I can to help increase the range of motion," Vaughan said.

What lies ahead

Vaughan returns to ISMI once a month for checkups and more therapy.

"Most patients have to undergo six to nine months of rehabilitation," Vaughan said.

That would put her into February, meaning she will miss the soccer season, and probably all of the girls basketball season.

"There's a chance I could be cleared by the end of basketball, but the doctor said he doesn't like to release patients early. A lot of times when a patient becomes too active earlier than they should arthritis develops in the joint. I don't want that to happen," Vaughan said.

She also has decided she will no longer play catcher for the BHS girls softball team.

"That wouldn't do my knee any good," she said.

Whether or not she will try to play another position, or just drop the sport, is up in the air.

"Right now I don't know whether I'll play. I haven't played any other positions for so long. I used to pitch. I might try that. But, right now I don't know," Vaughan said.

So, for now, Vaughan attends soccer practice every day helping where she can, and tutoring some of the younger players.

"I just try to keep my mind off playing," she said.

"In a way this has been a good thing. When I come back next season I will work so much harder. I won't take it for granted.

"I've had my fun. Now I'm ready to play," Vaughan said.

ACL is No. 1 injury in girls sports

Studies have shown that injries to the ACL are the most prevelant in girls sports today.

"It's the number one injury in girls sports because a girls hips are wider than a boys and that puts more pressure on the knees," said Baker girls soccer coach DeeDee Clarke.

Because girls have a wider pelvis it leads to a greater angle of the femur. That leads to more pressure on the knee. And, because girls have less muscular development and greater knee flexibility, it may decrease joint stability.

How the Bulldogs cope

The Baker girls soccer team works toward strengthening their knees by working with a weight lifting and flexibility program once a week.

"We lift weights to strengthen the muscles," said Monica Boyer.

"Once a week we work on our abs, arms, strength," added Ashley Shively.

Boyer noted that boys soccer players don't have the hip angle that girls do.

"The boys don't have hips, and that keeps their knees straighter," she said.

Clarke said the lifting and flexibility exercises "help to develop the muscles and the knees."


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