The Lady Vols have cut their risk for ACL tears
CANDACE PARKER has never had a problem jumping: Before she arrived at Tennessee, the 6'4" sophomore forward could tap the glass 4 1/2 inches above the basket. It's landing that was the problem. In 2003, during a high school summer-league game, Parker tore her left anterior cruciate ligament after grabbing a rebound. She's not the only member of the national champion Lady Vols with a knee surgery scar. Four of her teammates have also torn ACLs.
ACL injuries are a near epidemic for women athletes, who suffer them at least three times as often as men. Doctors believe that physiology (women have a larger hip-to-knee angle, which creates more stress on the knee joint, and even hormones could play a role) may explain the difference. Whatever the reason, basketball is especially risky. Women tend to let their knees fall inward into a knock-kneed position when jumping and landing, burdening the knee.
Yet ballerinas rarely suffer ACL tears, and sports medicine experts believe it's because their technique is refined through jump training. Parker and her Tennessee teammates have begun a similar regimen. "When she came in, Candace jumped more with her knees than her hips," says Jenny Moshak, the head of sports medicine at Tennessee. Parker has learned to keep her weight back; her knee has given her no trouble since she joined the Vols, and she can now reach 7 1/2 inches above the rim. Coach Pat Summitt has also changed practices, eliminating jump-stop layup drills because of the knee stress they create. This season was the Lady Vols' second straight without an ACL injury.