Patient Stories

Overcoming and Preventing Season-Ending Sports Injuries with Charles McClelland

Nov. 10, 2022

After two season-ending knee injuries, Charles McClelland is back to dominating the football field.

Prevalence of Sports Injuries in the United States

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), in 2021 sports and recreation accounted for more than 3.2M injuries in the U.S. Exercise equipment contributed to the most injuries at 409,224, followed by bicycles (375,797), basketball (259,779), skateboards/scooters (245,177), and unsurprisingly, football (222,086) to round out the top five.

Bruises, muscle and ligament strains, bone fractures and joint dislocations can all be results of misuse or overuse of certain areas of the body. Some of the most common sports and recreation-related injuries include tennis or baseball elbow, lumbar strain, jumper’s knee and runner’s knee.

Another common injury is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprain or tear, affecting an estimated 300,000 individuals in the U.S. every year.

The ACL is a band of four ligaments that provide stability within the knee joint. The ligaments can sprain or tear during activities that involve jumping or sudden pivots, like basketball or football. Many patients recall hearing and feeling a pop, and that their knee gave out from under them.

While more research supports that women are more prone to ACL sprains and tears, the injury is unbiased—even for those who train to prevent such injuries at the collegiate and professional level.

Charles McClelland Suffers Back-to-Back ACL Injuries

Cincinnati Bearcat Football’s Charles McClelland knows all too well what goes into recovering from major injuries in back-to-back seasons.

At preseason training camp in 2019, the sophomore running back suffered an ACL tear in his left knee during a non-contact drill. The injury ended his season and was followed by surgery.

After a successful recovery and return for the 2020 season, McClelland came to be a key contributor in the first four games of the season for the Bearcats before suffering another ACL tear—this time to his right knee.

Both of McClelland’s ACL reconstructions were performed by Angelo Colosimo, MD, UC Health orthopaedic surgeon and long-time UC Athletics Medical Director—as well as a former collegiate running back himself. But it wasn’t without months of rigorous physical therapy and strength training before McClelland was able to get back on the field for the 2021 season.

Returning to collegiate-level competition after two ACL injuries is not commonplace, but it can happen, especially with the right mindset and an experienced medical team.

“The biggest challenge is the motivation of the athlete has to have to overcome their injury,” Dr. Colosimo explained. “With a motivated athlete, a great medical team and aggressive post-operative rehab, it’s possible. And Charlie [McClelland] is a very motivated kid,”

Dr. Colosimo went on to credit McClelland’s return to his off-field calm demeanor and his dedication to getting back on the field

Injury Prevention from McClelland and UC Health Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine

Today, McClelland is fully recovered, making an impact for the Bearcats’ offense—and there is no running back—pun fully intended. In addition to his care team at UC Health, he shared his number one injury prevention tip for other athletes:

“Get in the training room as early as possible—don’t wait around until you’re hurting,” McClelland emphasized. “Go in there every day, because eventually you’re going to need it. If you’re already prepping your body, you’ll be okay.”

Strength training is just one critical aspect to preventing injury, but McClelland and UC Health sports medicine subspecialists also urge the importance of the following sports injury prevention techniques:

Follow these 10 steps to prevent sports related injuries:

  1. Pre-participation physicals. Before you start any type of exercise program, it's important to get a physical exam completed by your primary care or sports medicine physician. This is especially true if you have any medical conditions that could put you at a higher risk for injury.
  2. Warm-up and cool down. Warm up your muscles before engaging in any sort of strenuous activity. A good warm-up will raise your heart rate and increase blood flow to your muscles, which can help reduce the risk of strains and pulls. Cooling down after exercise is also important, as it helps your body gradually return to its resting state and can prevent cramping or other injuries caused by sudden changes in temperature or activity level. 
  3. Wearing the right gear. Depending on the activity, if you need protective gear like a mouthguard or knee pads, don’t skimp on quality—it could mean the difference between a minor injury and a serious one. In addition, make sure your athletic shoes fit properly and provide adequate support. Wearing ill-fitting or worn-out shoes puts you at greater risk for injuries such as blisters, ankle sprains and shin splints, and not to mention less protection from high impact movements that cause even worse injuries.
  4. Proper technique. If you want to avoid injury, use proper techniques when participating in any type of sport or exercise, as doing so helps prevent types of functional injuries that can amount to years of stress on certain parts of the body. A simple example: when doing a squat exercise, it is important to keep your knees vertically behind your toes to avoid adding harmful strain on your knee joints. This technique also maximizes leg muscle involvement instead of the knee joint, which improves muscle strength while protecting from injury. Proper technique can also mean using the right equipment, following the rules and not pushing yourself beyond your limits.
  5. Cross-training. Don’t overdo it with any one type of exercise or sport. Mix things up by cross-training, or doing different types of exercises or activities so you use different muscle groups. Cross-training helps reduce boredom and lowers your risk of overuse injuries from constantly repeating the same motions. It also helps by preparing your potentially under-used muscles, joints and bones for unexpected situations that can cause injuries.
  6. Proprioceptive exercises. Proprioceptive, or balance training, can train your body to better understand where it is within its environment, thus preventing slips, trips and falls. Balance training can also help rehabilitate a deficient or injured joint. Equipment like balance boards force your body to react to and control unpredictable movements of the board and your joints. It is important to note that, especially if injured, it is best to work with a medical professional when trying these types of exercises.
  7. Plyometrics or jump training. The basis of plyometric training is to teach the body how to land properly. By consciously preparing your knees to land softly and within alignment can greatly reduce an athlete’s risk of injury.
  8. Core strength. A strong core will stabilize the rest of your body, and especially reduce pressure on the hips, knees and back.
  9. Flexibility. Once muscles are warmed-up, they are ready to be stretched. Stretching muscles help them contract and perform, reducing the risk of injury. Each stretch should last for 20 seconds at a point of tension, not pain. Stretching during cool-down can help with muscle soreness after physical activity.
  10. Rest and recovery. There is such a thing as over-training. Your body needs time to recover from exercise, so make sure you get enough rest, which includes getting enough sleep at night and taking breaks during the day if needed. If you feel pain while exercising, don’t just push through it—listen to your body and take a break until the pain goes away. Ignoring pain not only puts you at greater risk for injuries but can also delay the healing process if you do end up with an injury.

The UC Health Academic Medicine Difference

“From the complex to straightforward, providers at UC Health are better equipped to handle the injured ACL than anyone else in the Tristate,” Brian Grawe, MD, UC Health orthopaedic surgeon and Division Director of Sports Medicine, said. “Because of the academic difference that only UC Health has, we have high-level research on athletes with injured ACLs, allowing us to continuously improve our techniques, modify our individual approaches to specific athletes and sports, and allow for a safe and successful return to competition.”

McClelland is grateful for his entire UC Health care team, from his surgeons athletic trainers and physical therapists, to of course his fellow Bearcats.

“A lot of people don’t come back from two injuries like that—let alone in back-to-back seasons,” McClelland said, “but I’m still here playing.”

Learn more about overcoming and preventing sports injuries or make an appointment with a sports medicine physician by calling 513-475-8690.