ST. LOUIS – Concussions aren't the only major sports injury that parents should be concerned about. Just ask Michael Slater.
“Tajah’s my eleventh kid — eleventh female athlete — to tear her ACL," said the Whitfield High School girls basketball coach.
Tajah Foster-Walker is a junior for the Warriors. She hasn't even graduated high school, yet she's torn her ACL. Twice.
“We’ve really worked hard to try to get our girls to understand how important it is to strength train," said Slater.
And it appears proper training, especially at a relatively early age, is pivotal to preventing such ACL tears. Otherwise, St. Louis Children's Hospital will likely continue to see an alarming amount of such injuries.
“Every day we’re seeing another young athlete coming in with this type of injury," said Dr. Jeffrey Nepple, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and director of the hospital's Young Athlete’s Center.
Dr. Nepple is also head of a free injury prevention program for young athletes in St. Louis, targeting athletes, like Tajah, to help prevent ACL tears.
“It focuses on overall movement patterns and by correcting the movement patterns you prevent other injuries.”
Many times, ACL tears can happen even when there's no contact. That was the case for Tajah.
“The first time [4 years ago] I was jumping from catching a pass and the second time I was just throwing a pass," she said.
Obviously, there's no conceivable way to prevent 100 percent of injuries, but Nepple's program helped Tajah get back on the floor while also teaching proper training to make her knee stronger.
“He was really, really good about making sure I don’t push it too hard and taking it slow," she said.
“Make sure that I keep definitely strengthening both of my legs, not just focusing on one because I know that can cause another injury.”
Nepple says training programs like his are routine for national or professional sports programs, but not so much for high school or youth programs. Another possible culprit as to why they see so many injuries — sports specification.
“Nowadays athletes have the opportunity to play a single sport all year-round — on clubs, on high school teams, sometimes they’re even playing on multiple teams at a time," said Nepple.
Nepple's injury prevention program is currently free with the following partners: Lou Fusz soccer, Westminster and John Burroughs High Schools. However, he hopes to expand the program this year.
Most of the programs are targeted to 12-year-olds and above where risk of ACL tears are highest. New FIFA kids programs are now available for younger ages.
For those who would like more information, you can reach the young athlete center at 314-454-KIDS.
As for Tajah? She has an offer to play college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.