According to the University of Colorado Hospital, women are four to six times more likely to injure their knees than men, none more apparent than in women’s soccer.
Soccer involves intense cutting, change of direction and excessive lateral movement. That being said, injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are common.
ACL injuries generally occur due to lack of sufficient muscle in the quadriceps and hamstrings.
The knee is one of, if not, the most complex joints in the body therefore instability within this joint can cause ligaments to be damaged.
One might think that ACL injuries occur only when contact is involved, yet this is not the case.
Many times, the knee injury occurs due to changing direction to kick a ball to the opposite way the athlete is facing.
The torque that is required to stop from a dead sprint, turn and kick a soccer ball is immense. The player will then hear a pop and feel pain in their knee, falling to the ground.
The physical pain felt when a ligament tears is indescribable, yet the mental agony that accompanies an injury like this is even more severe. After a tear occurs in the ACL, surgery in normally required along with a long road of physical therapy, rehab, and strengthening the knee before returning to the sport.
Six to nine months is the most common time frame to make a full recovery from an ACL tear.
For soccer athletes six to nine months away from their sport is detrimental.
This will test the athlete mentally because the schedule they are used to will now be turned upside down. Physical therapy three times a week, accompanied by at home workouts, plus school will test an athletes’ mental toughness.
Three players on the women’s soccer team in particular have suffered ACL tears and have had a combined total of 11 different knee surgeries.
Tia Kinilau is a freshman starter on the Pacific women’s soccer team.
Kinilau had a lot of doubts initially because knee surgery is such a big deal yet as time went on her worrying dissipated.
“I tore my ACL in my junior year of high school during a club game. In the beginning I had a lot of doubts about whether I would be able to play again, but once I realized how helpful people were toward my injury I quickly changed my mind and became determined to get back to the game,” stated Kinilau.
Many athletes that have surgery on their ACL end up having follow up surgeries. The knee is complex so one surgery doesn’t always finish the job.
“I have only had the one surgery for my ACL,” Kinilau described. The fact that ACL injuries often require multiple surgeries I feel like the only reason I have only had one surgery is pure luck.”
Senior Kendall Stratton, at the opposite end of the spectrum of Kinilau, is in her junior year and currently coaches youth soccer.
After her first ACL surgery, her life was changed by 6 more surgeries.
“I was at a regional camp for the Olympic Development Team and on the first day of camp I tore my ACL, MLC, LCL and meniscus. I returned to soccer and then needed to get my screws removed, so that was surgery number two,” explained Stratton. “It shaped my life for sure because this was part of my road to 7 knee surgeries and having to quit soccer.”
As time went on, Stratton was able to play soccer off and on until her sophomore year of college when she unfortunately was told by her doctor that she could no longer play the game she loves.
“I was on the team here at Pacific for two years, but never saw the field because I was always rehabbing from injuries. At the beginning of my sophomore year I was ready to play, all ready to go, but I was having trouble running. I got an MRI and it turned out that I tore my ACL again, so this was surgery number six,” Stratton said. “After that I couldn’t straighten my knee so it was on to surgery seven and that took me out of soccer for good.”
Stratton’s one goal was to play college soccer, though she did not achieve this, she has made the best of her situation and now coaches youth soccer and teaches how to prevent knee injuries in young athletes.
“Obviously it sucked all the way around, my dream was always to play college soccer, and I haven’t been able to fulfill that dream. Now, I coach soccer so I can still stay connected to the game,” said Stratton.
Another knee surgery will be in Stratton’s future due to the major trauma her knee dealt with in her life.
“My doctor told me I will need a knee replacement by the time I am 35. They usually don’t do a knee replacement unless you are over 50,” explained Stratton.
Knee replacements at 35 are very uncommon yet for Stratton it will be her 8th knee surgery and even more rehab she will have to endure mentally and physically.
The scars that these athletes have are a constant reminder of the determination and perseverance that they used to return to the game the love in some aspect.
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