There are ten minutes left in the game, the score is tied up and you are running for the ball. Just as you plant your foot, you hear a pop. Then a searing pain follows. It only took a fraction of a second for your entire career as an athlete to end.
This story is a reality for 1 of every 3,000 individuals who will tear their ACL, and injury that is extremely common in athletes. The ACL or the anterior cruciate ligament stabilizes the knee along with four other major ligaments. Its role is to help the femur and tibia bones remain in place when making quick stop or go movements.
It is most common to see this injury in female soccer players. This is due to the fast-paced nature of soccer, and women’s knees are structurally more turned in and more rigid then men.
Emma Kenchel ’22 has become an expert in all things ACL after spending two years rehabilitating the ligament on both of her legs. Kenchel has been playing soccer for as long as she can remember, but in 2017 her soccer career almost ended. “I was turning around, and there was a defender behind me. My body went one way and my knee went the other, and the ACL just snapped.”
After 9 months of recovery, Kenchel was cleared to play, but her doctor warned her about the possibility of a repeat injury. Kenchel stepped out on the field only to have her doctor’s warning come true. “I was planting my foot while going in for a ball and my whole knee blew out. I injured my ACL, LCL, MCL and I had someone bruising. It was all destroyed.”
Kenchel then went back to recovery. “The first 6 months I did physical therapy twice a week every week. Then after 6 months it was just strengthening my knee and getting back skills. When the 9th month hit is when I started playing again. ”
Kenchel is now back on the field but it isn’t same as before her injury. “I am more aware of everything and I do more stretching. I am also just aware when I am planting my foot or going in for a tackle.”
A major contrast between pre-injury and post-injury are Kenchel’s views on playing in college. “Pre-surgery I wanted to play in college 100%. Post-surgery, I’m not so sure.”
The main factor in her hesitation is the fear of missing out on her life again. “I’m at such a high risk, and I don’t want to have to miss out on more things in the future because of injury.”
While Kenchel was sidelined, the world went on without her, not only in her soccer life but also in her daily life.
“I missed out on just 8th grade stuff, like eighth grade soccer and basketball. Also, PE…I know that sounds stupid, but everyone would come back in eighth grade and talk about it and I just didn’t have the opportunity to experience it. It’s just the basic things that I would have enjoyed.”
Kenchel is back to playing while she takes precautions like wearing a brace and doing extra exercises before she steps on the field. She doesn’t think there are many things she can do to effectively prevent it.
“I just don’t think there is anything that can really stop it. You can try to prevent it with stretches but it’s not like the flu. You can’t get a shot to avoid it.”
Kenchel tore both her ACLs in consecutive years and came back. Although this is an injury that sees a 90% return rate, it is also an injury that takes athletes out of the game for 9 months and the biggest struggle is making up for that lost time. Kenchel used those nine months to recover and is now back to playing the game that she loves.