Pro soccer player Joanna Lohman 34, is going through the challenging exercises that are now a daily part of her recovery since tearing her anterior crucial ligament (ACL) in the home-opening game against the North Carolina Courage on April 15. Twelve days after her injury Joanna underwent surgery.
“I never thought it would happen to me,” Lohman, who had been expected to be one of Washington’s key playmakers this season, told a source. “This has been a very eye-opening experience for me because I’ve never had an injury before. I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t even fully aware of what I did when it happened.”
According to statistics, women are two to eight times more likely than men to sustain an ACL injury while playing sports, especially activities like soccer and basketball that demand lateral movements and frequent starts and stops. Doctors believe that the way a woman’s lower body is aligned—a wider pelvis, more joint laxity—contributes to the increased risk.
Unfortunately, she’s not the only player on the Spirit team who is currently injured. The Washington team has four athletes, including Lohman, who are recovering from torn ACLs. That total is an addition to six other players on teams within the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) who are currently out for the rest of the 2017 season with ACL injuries.
While a common injury, players are unable to train or compete for at least six months for up to a year after having ACL surgery (those who don’t have surgery often aren’t able to compete ever again), but that expected duration can vary depending on a player’s age, muscle strength, physical rehabilitation protocol and attitude.
“You need to give [a patient] an honest answer, but there is always a range, ” Jennifer Baine, a sports medicine doctor in Stanford, CA, says. “When you’re optimistic, it’s good motivation, and some athletes really take that on. But there is also a psychological risk if they don’t meet those deadlines. [Then] it’s devastation.”
How, though, does an athlete stay optimistic and avoid devastation when she’s staring down a recovery process of up to one year? Pro players say it’s important to develop a support network among those who have the same scar in the same place.
“You can see it in their eyes who’s going to be successful and who is going to struggle,” Baine said. “Often, for the athletes who see the injury as career-ending, it will be a struggle whereas those who can see it as a present challenge will come back—and come back even stronger.”