Olympic athlete's tips to prevent injuries

Many young athletes fantasize about making it to the Olympics and winning a gold medal.

Alex Morgan’s dreams came true when the U.S. soccer team beat Japan at the 2012 summer Olympics in London.

“I’ve watched the Olympics since I was a little girl, since I was 4 years old,” said Morgan, 23. “So, you know, it’s been a dream to me, to be standing on that medal stand and have someone put the gold medal around (my) neck.”

Morgan has been playing soccer since she was 6, and she won a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley.

That’s when everything came to a screeching halt.

“My senior year of high school, I tore my ACL,” Morgan said, referring to the anterior cruciate ligament, which is part of the knee.

Dr. Robert Marx, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, said people who have this injury “will hear a pop in their knee associated with pain and swelling.  Symptoms vary; some people can continue playing, while most cannot walk without crutches for one to two months.”

After surgery and rehab, Morgan was back on the field within five months – and then it was on to the Olympics.

Typically, it takes six months to one year to recover.

Marx, author of The ACL Solution: Prevention and Recovery for Sports Most Devastating Knee Injury, said he’s operating on more adolescents than ever – and even on kids as young as 7 years old.

"They’re playing more intensely and more frequently,” Marx said. “When I was a kid, there was no travel teams, no select teams – and now kids are specializing in sports. They’re playing all year-round. There’s summer camps, and they’re playing intensely to win."

Morgan and Marx agreed – prevention is key, and that’s why the Olympic gold medalist teamed up with FIFA and DePuy Mitek to launch their “Sports Injury Prevention Program.”

With 15 clinics across the country, a current or former national team member helps kids with stretches and exercises to prevent injuries.

"Teenagers don't really understand injuries until they get injured . . . until they are sidelined they don't really understand the importance of the proper warm up,” Morgan said. “(You have to) warm up all of your muscles before you go out there and play 100 percent – everyone just wants to go, go, go – but you have to pay attention to your body."

Marx said teachers, coaches and parents should also be more involved in teaching athletes how to warm up properly.

For more on this program, visit the Sports Injury Prevention Program on Facebook.