Dr. Cynthia LaBella

Dr. Cynthia LaBella: Preventing Knee Injuries in Young Athletes

February 17, 2010

By Amanda Dolan for Knee1

Dr. Cynthia LaBella, MD, is the Medical Director of the Institute for Sports Medicine at Children’s Memorial Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. After earning her medical degree from Cornell University Medical College in New York and finishing a residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Dr. LaBella completed a sports medicine fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is board certified in both Pediatrics and Sports Medicine. Dr. LaBella has served as team physician for many high school, college, elite, and professional teams. She is currently the team physician for the United States Rhythmic Gymnastics team. She was recently elected to the executive committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Her research efforts focus on identification of risk factors for injury in youth sports and development of strategies for prevention. She received grant support from the Children’s Memorial Research Center to implement a neuromuscular training program aimed at reducing knee injuries in female athletes at Chicago Public High Schools. Through a separate grant from Children’s Memorial Hospital, and in conjunction with the CMH Motion Analysis Center, she is using 3D motion analysis to investigate the role of pitching technique on the risk of overuse injuries in youth pitchers.

What lead to your interest in Orthopedic Surgery, Sports Medicine, and Pediatrics? I tore my ACL doing gymnastics when I was 16. I spent the next two years in very close contact with orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and athletic trainers. I admired all their knowledge and skills that helped get me back to gymnastics. However, at that time, none of these professionals had any formal training in treating adolescents. I decided I wanted to become a sports medicine specialist for who filled this void for young athletes.

What is your area of clinical expertise?
Pediatric sports medicine

What has helped contribute to your success with patients?
My education and training, my passion for teaching, and my love of sports.

Are you currently involved with any research?
Yes, for example, see this study “to determine the effect of a structured neuromuscular warm-up on injury rates in female athletes in an urban public high school league.” This won the award for best overall research presented at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine annual national meeting in April 2009 and also won the Oded Bar-Or award for best sports medicine research presentation at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in October 2009. Also involved with another, prospective cohort study “of the relationship between pitching technique and pain at the elbow and shoulder joints of youth baseball pitchers.”

What medical organizations are you active in?

    • Member, Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness

Could you explain the Knee Injury Prevention Program (KIPP)? KIPP is a neuromuscular exercise program designed to lower the risk of ACL injuries among adolescent female athletes. KIPP was developed by our sports medicine experts and is based on published scientific research. Our own research has shown that these exercises can also reduce recurrent knee pain by 56%. KIPP consists of two one-hour classes per week for six consecutive weeks and is taught by certified athletic trainers and licensed physical therapists trained in knee injury prevention techniques.

What happens in a KIPP class?
KIPP instructors lead participants through a series of progressively challenging strengthening exercises, plyometrics , and agility drills. Participants learn how to improve neuromuscular control of knee motion and to recognize unsafe knee positions. Participants are videotaped during the program to provide them with visual feedback on their progress.

Who should participate in KIPP? All physically active teenage girls can benefit from KIPP. The exercise program is specifically designed for girls 13 years of age and older. KIPP is not a treatment program for knee injuries. Girls must be fully recovered from any injuries before they can participate. When and where is KIPP offered? KIPP is offered up to four times per year at various locations in the Chicago area. Schedules and enrollment forms are available at .

What distinguishes the Knee Injury Prevention Program (KIPP) from other similar training programs?
We provide hands-on training for coaches so they can learn from our sports medicine professional how to incorporate the exercises properly into their team’s warm-up routine.

Is the program only available for young women?

Why not boys?
KIPP addresses female-specific risk factors. Boys tend not to have the same risk factors for knee injuries as girls. While KIPP was designed for girls, boys, can certainly benefit from the KIPP exercises, as they are an excellent whole body strengthening program. Our research, however, was only conducted with girls. So we have no evidence to support any reduction in injury among boys using KIPP.

What is the most common injury that you treat?
Patellofemoral pain syndrome

What are some of the common causes for knee injuries?
• Overuse (sudden increase in training intensity, frequency, or duration) • Imbalances in muscle strength and neuromuscular firing patterns • Inappropriate shoewear.

What do you find most gratifying about your work?
Helping young athletes learn how to take care of their bodies.

Last updated: 17-Feb-10

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