ACL injuries are common and on the rise. These injuries can cause young athletes to sit on the sidelines for months, lose out on valuable scholarship money and lead to long term osteoarthritis. It is estimated that over 50,000 high school and college age female athletes suffer from ACL injuries each year. While some of these incidents cannot be prevented, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the number of injuries.
One common misconception about ACL tears is that they are a result of player-to-player contact and little can be done to prevent occurrence. While ACLs are injured/torn in this manner, most occur as a result of the following:
- Sudden change in direction
- Cutting maneuvers coupled with a sudden stop
- Awkward landing following a jump
- Pivoting with knee fully extended while foot is planted on the ground
Unfortunately, female athletes are more susceptible to ACL injury. Anatomical differences, such as a greater Q-angle, are primarily to blame. Other factors include weak muscle groups, bad habits, improper form and decreased range of motion. The good news is that while we cannot change the anatomy, we can identify risk factors and help reduce the chance of injury.
A few suggestions for prevention would include:
- Strength training – especially the smaller muscles around the knee and the hamstring
- Jump routine exercises emphasizing proper form and landing
- Pivoting exercises – also focusing on proper form
These tools are most successful when implemented in early adolescence. By utilizing prevention tools early in life, we can ensure that kids are learning proper form and technique from the beginning. This alleviates the need to undo risky habits in the future.
Many organizations are implementing pre-season screening programs where professionals can assess athletes and determine if they are high risk for ACL injury. If you have access to one of these programs, take advantage of it and use the prevention tools provided. In future posts, we will also highlight exercises and routines that could be helpful.