UNT conducting psychological study of athletes who have torn ACL
Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer
UNT is conducting a study on three different psychological interventions and how they could improve the lives and duration of recovery among athletes with a torn ACL.
Doctoral candidate Shelly Sheinbein is the lead researcher for the study. and upon its completion, will earn her Ph.D. in counseling psychology. A former lacrosse player in college, Sheinbein is passionate about aiding athletes in their recovery from ACL injuries.
“I want to help make a difference and impact athletes’ lives,” Sheinbein said. “I’m an athlete myself, so I think this stuff matters and can really have a positive impact.”
To be eligible for the study, interested candidates must schedule a consultation with the UNT Center for Sport Psychology and Performance Excellence before having reconstructive surgery to repair their damaged ACL. Participants then attend eight 30-minute sessions during which some sort of psychological intervention will be performed. According to Sheinbein, the study defines an athlete as anyone who participates in approximately six hours of sport per week and wants to return to exercising at that level following surgery.
Free for those who qualify, participants will be randomly delegated to one of three psychological interventions and will be asked to adhere to each respective intervention’s protocols. Due to the study’s scientific nature, no specifics were given to avoid tainting results.
“The interventions themselves, all of them have been heavily researched,” Sheinbein said. “They will be learning skills that help them not only handle what they are dealing with in the moment with their sport injury, but also help them in the long run of being able to, once they return to sport, achieve some of their higher goals.”
Recovering from an ACL tear is typically a long process, taking anywhere from six to nine months to fully recuperate. Also, tearing the ACL almost always requires reconstructive surgery.
To reconstruct the knee, surgeons will drill two holes, one in the femur and one in the tibia, to act as anchor points for the new ACL graft. The surgeon will then harvest a tendon from the patient, usually from the hamstring or patellar, to serve as the new ACL ligament. In smaller cases, patients or doctors often opt to use a cadaver for the new ligament instead.
The physician will then thread the ACL graft through the two holes drilled in the femur and tibia, insert dissolvable screws to hold the new ligament in place and sew the wound shut.
No matter which option is chosen, the surgery is a major procedure that requires time, finesse and proper guidance in order to heal properly.
“The social norm right now is – because you hear so much about it on ESPN and social media – that it’s almost like going and having a tooth pulled,” Dustin Hill, North Texas director of sports medicine, said of ACL tears. “But it’s still a very significant surgery because there is a reconstruction of the knee. The rehab is very tough.”
But with how often the injury occurs in athletics, it’s easy to see why it is becoming increasingly prevalent in the news. Approximately 300,000 people involved in sports or recreational activity suffer an ACL injury each year, according to the flyer for Sheinbein’s study,
Men’s basketball head coach Tony Benford has one explanation as to why the injury has become so prevalent.
“One thing it could be is kids now are playing year-round,” Benford said. “They play so many games. They’ll play three, sometimes even four games a day. The wear and tear is eventually going to catch up with you.”
The impact of an ACL tear is felt not only physically, but mentally as well. Many people experience a progression of emotions after their injury, from dejection and despondence to displeasure and vexation.
“They go through all the stages,” Hill said. “It’s the anger and frustration of it happening. It’s the sadness. The sadness kicks in really quick because they know their season is done. Then they get into the whole deal of getting mad and ‘why me?’ Every single person goes through almost the same type of phases of that psychological stage. It’s pretty similar across the board.”
The North Texas women’s basketball team has two players on its current roster who have experienced ACL tears. Junior guard Candice Adams suffered her season-ending injury in the middle of the 2013 campaign and to this day wears a bulky brace to support her surgically repaired knee.
“[Recovery time] was long,” Adams said. “It was hard. Just trying to get my leg back straight and walk again, it was a tough process. The six months of rehab was my biggest challenge.”
ACL studies have even advanced so much that experts are now trying to gauge how prone athletes are to tearing it before an injury occurs. Adams remembers attending a Nike camp as a middle schooler, where they administered a test that showed Adams she had an 80 percent chance of tearing her ACL.
“They put sensors on our legs and body. We did a jump test and a landing test, and my knees were going in,” Adams said. “It said I had a high percentage of tearing my ACL. But I was just like, ‘Oh, this is a new study,’ and I never really paid attention to it. And sure enough, I tore my ACL.”
For Sheinbein, her mission is to give athletes confidence during their rehabilitation and upon their return to sports. Currently, she has 10 participants in the study, but hopes to have 75 by the time she finishes at the end of 2016.
Although she is unsure what the results of her study will reveal, there is one thing she is adamant about.
“This can help,” Sheinbein said. “Everyone recovers from things differently. By participating in this study, you will likely benefit both physically and mentally and have a much higher likelihood of returning to sport. Fifty percent of athletes who have ACL surgery never return to sport. This study is intended to fill that gap.”
Featured Image: Illustration by Jake Bowerman | Staff Illustrator
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