ST. JOHNSBURY -- St. Johnsbury Academy senior Brigette Rankin presented her senior capstone project focused on injury prevention for athletes last week. Rankin's capstone dealt specifically with preventing injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
Academy girls basketball coach Jack Driscoll saw Rankin give a presentation for winter coaches and athletic director David McGinn at the Academy's Meet the Coaches night on Nov. 17.
"Her capstone was focused on ACL injury prevention on athletes and specifically what athletes can do to strengthen their quad and knee. We've been doing those stretches for about three years now," Driscoll said about his basketball team.
Rankin, who plays on Driscoll's team, will be provided an opportunity to lead her team in the exercises she researched, Driscoll said.
Driscoll's daughter, Johannah, suffered three ACL injuries. "The same one as Gronk on Sunday," Driscoll said, referring to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's most recent knee injury. Rankin said she was drawn to studying the prevention of ACL injuries for her capstone because she witnessed Johannah, her teammate, have to deal with so many.
"I think we could focus more on the stretching aspect," SJA wrestling coach Mike Verge said. Verge attended Driscoll's presentation to coaches. "Flexibility in wrestling is an asset."
Verge said coaches should implement the exercises Rankin suggested before games and practices for the well being of their athletes. "Every coach should improve and if it takes a young lady to point out what we're missing then that's what it takes," he said.
"With how easy it is to prevent, it's just not worth having to go through," Rankin said. "I looked at a lot of the consequences of the injuries and the consequences are just not worth it. The cost, the time and the fact that you can do these exercises in a minimum amount of time, it just seems to make the most sense."
Rankin said she wants to see her exercises used throughout all sports at the Academy to help prevent future knee injuries. "The ideal situation would be that coaches would implement the warmup that I made and ... some of the exercises so that knee injuries went down at the Academy," Rankin said.
"I compiled a bunch of different, already existing injury prevention programs," Rankin said of how she created her warmup. "I took all the exercises from them and cross referenced and paid attention to which ones came up the most and I made it into a full set of exercises. And from that I developed my warmup."
Some of the exercises had been used in studies Rankin found while researching, while others were modeled from the Santa Monica Medical Research Institute which has "made a pet program which is specifically a knee injury prevention program," Rankin said. Some of the exercises go beyond protecting the knee and also reduce the risk of lower limb and ankle injuries.
Rankin is currently taking a sports medicine class at St. Johnsbury taught by athletic trainer Chris Despins. "I've used a lot that I've learned from the class in my project," Rankin said. "Especially with the anatomy of the knee."
In order to properly perform the stretches and exercises she suggested, Rankin stressed that "it has a lot to do with specific form. From personal experience people try to rush through the warmup not realizing how important it is to actually do it correctly. The stretches are aimed at neuromuscular and proprioceptive training, which focuses on being more aware of where your limbs are and also having greater neuromuscular control, so also strengthening the muscles around the knee." Some of the stretches she suggested were squats, lunges and different plyometric exercises.
"It's been shown that just educating people on the injury mechanisms and the consequences can reduce the injury rates," Rankin said. She referenced a study conducted on Vermont ski instructors in which the rate of ACL injuries suffered over the winter went down 50 percent after simply educating the ski instructors about the injury.
"Lots of studies included education and exercises as part of it, but this one was strictly based on injury prevention education," Rankin said of the study. There are pamphlets at the St. Johnsbury Academy field house desk that Rankin hopes will be handed out in seasons to come to educate student athletes, parents and coaches about ACL injuries.
"I wanted to present it to all the coaches to reach them directly and make a bigger impact," Rankin said. "When I presented to the students, I had a slightly different presentation. I wanted to show them what they can do to help prevent an ACL injury."
Rankin is contemplating a future in physical training, though she is unsure where she will go to school after she graduates.