By Val Willingham
(CNN) — It didn’t surprise many sports medicine experts when Louisville basketball guard Kevin Ware sustained a horrific leg injury during an Elite Eight game.
In Sunday night’s action, Ware, 20, came down wrong on his right leg, causing a gruesome break. His right tibia, or shinbone, broke through the skin — what’s called an open or compound fracture.
The body takes a beating during sports competitions, especially if a player jumps, runs or lands incorrectly.
But doctors from Ohio State University are finding that certain players may be more prone to particular injuries — and it has to do with how they move.
And in an effort to cut down on injuries on the court or the field, Dr. Timothy Hewett, who heads the project at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center, and his team have developed simple screening tests to better determine who is at risk for certain problems before damage occurs.
“What we’ve demonstrated in the laboratory,” Hewett says, “is that we can predict with greater than 80% accuracy who is at higher risk for relative injury.”
The screening techniques are so accurate that the National Basketball Association has asked OSU doctors to help identify which of their athletes are at the highest risk for anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, and other injuries, and to come up with programs to try and prevent them, so that more players are on the court than on the bench.
“We are always looking for people to educate our physicians and athletic trainers,” says NBA spokesman Tim Frank. “This could lead to an excellent training tool sometime in the future.”
Researchers believe if they can get high schools to use their screening techniques, they can cut down on the number of injuries by 60% to 65%, Hewett says. Designing programs for young players can also help cut down on injuries as they go on to college or even to the pro level.
When they jump and land, athletes usually favor part of their bodies, such as the trunk, thigh muscles, knees or feet.
Those who favor their knees are called “ligament-dominant,” for example, and are more prone to ACL injuries, which are among the most common in sports. Not only are such injuries costly, but they take time to heal because most require surgery and rehabilitation.
“The minimum recovery time for an ACL tear is about six to 12 months,” Hewett says. “And that’s a lot of time to be on the injured list and sitting on the bench.”
Researchers are studying whether athletes are quadriceps-dominant, ligament-dominant, leg-dominant or favor his or her trunk.
“We look at the athlete’s specific profile, his specific muscles balance or dominance patterns, and then we design a neuromuscular training program that helps him avoid injuries,” Hewett says.
“We used to think these types of injuries were a result of body type or simply couldn’t be helped. But by teaching athletes to move differently while they are mimicking, then playing their sports, we can prevent ACL injuries in groups with disparities.”
Kevin Volz, 24, of Columbus, Ohio, is among the athletes working with Hewett. Volz began experiencing shin pain as a high school cross-country runner.
“They took me to my high school trainer, and he did the basics that I think most high school trainers do, which is icing,” Volz says. “I sat out races, and I think just the lack of treatment is what still affects me now.”
When he attempts to run on sidewalks and roads in the spring, he says, “it just wreaks havoc on my knees and legs. It hurts really bad. … If it gets rid of that shooting pain, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
One of Volz’s quadriceps muscles, or thigh muscles, is about 30% weaker on one side than the other, Hewett says.
“What we’re going to do is prescribe some quad exercises on your left dominant side,” he tells Volz. “In addition, with your movement patterns … what you tend to do is land (from jumps) with a flat foot.”
The goal is to make Volz “less ligament-dominant and more muscle-dominant,” Hewett says.
Volz says, “Hopefully, I’ll get back to running.”
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