Short warm up may protect young players' knees

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McIntosh High School senior Alison Cappas remembers that day she hurt her knee two years ago like it was yesterday.

"It was the field right behind us," the 18-year old says.

She was playing with her soccer club, in a tournament.

"We had just been scored on in the game," Cappas says.  "So, I was, like, really angry, and had a lot of energy. I got the ball and was just running down the sideline, and then we just impacted in a tackle. And my left leg got caught behind me."

That's when her knee buckled inward, and Cappas heard a "pop.

She'd torn her anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, and her medial collateral ligament, or MCL, the ligaments that stabilize her knee. Cappas couldn't stand up.

"I immediately started crying," she says.

She knew what this meant: reconstructive surgery, months of physical therapy, being sidelined for months.

"I ended up having to be out almost a year," Cappas says.

The same thing happened to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta physical therapist and former semi-pro soccer player Jenny Meyer at 19. Younger female athletes seem to be at higher risk. Experts estimate young female soccer players suffered 5 times the number of "non-contact" knee injuries as young male players.  Meyer says part of the problem is the way females are aligned.

"We have wider hips," she says, "And with wider hips, it's causing our legs to go in."

Bending her knees, Meyer shows how the smallest pivot can cause the knee to buckle inward.

"It's more than quick movement or that quick twist, or if your foot gets stuck," Meyer says.

So Meyer encourages young players to warm up, protecting their knees with a 220-minute pre-practice warm up, created by the international soccer federation,  FIFA. It's called the FIFA 11+.  
But this is not your typically stretching routine.

"It's actually a dynamic movement, to get your body in those movements you're going to do in soccer, to get those muscles activating, and appropriately firing, so they can do what they need to do," Meyer says.

She and Cappss show how the routine begins. They run, work on balance, perform jumping movements, then run again. One research study shows how effective this short warm up can be.
Researchers tracked nearly 2,000 female youth soccer players. The teams that used the FIFA 11+ workout at least twice a week had 30% to 50% fewer injuries than the teams that used their typical warm up program.

"It's not going to completely prevent it, but it's going to decrease those injuries we're seeing," Meyer says.

Two years after her injury, Alison Cappas is back on the pitch, gearing up to play club soccer at Kennesaw State University next fall.

But nowadays, she warms up, and listens to her body.

"Because the 5 minutes of play you might get isn't worth the whole season," Cappos says.

To read more about Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Soccer Program, visit