You have probably seen it. Perhaps multiple times. A competitive sport is under way. Two players jostle for a ball. Not a lot of contact but one player steps a bit funny and down they go, clutching a knee. They cannot get off of the field under their own steam. Next thing you know it, they are undergoing MRI’s and then surgery. There is a long rehabilitation and they never reach the same level of athletic performance again. This is the world of Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury, and it is all too common in athletes.
Every year, over 200,000 athletes sustain ACL tears in the United States alone. Startlingly, female athletes are 4-8 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than males participating in the same sport. Sports involving, starting and stopping, jumping, and sudden changes in running direction, seem to be of highest risk. Thus soccer, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and skiing may involve higher incidences of the injury. Sports such as track, cross-country, and swimming seem to carry a lower incidence.
Athletes in their teens and twenties appear to be at greatest risk. The injury has a peak incidence in those between the ages of 15 and 20 but no one is exempt. It is a serious and expensive health issue that can carry long term physical and emotional repercussions.
Injury Prevention is Very Possible!
Clearly, ACL injuries may have a severe impact on the life of an athlete—both physically and emotionally. Prevention of the injury should therefore be paramount to all athletes. Luckily, there are some very straight forward measures that can be taken by athletes to help prevent ACL injuries—particularly by athletes who are found to be at high risk. Interestingly, most ACL injuries do not occur from direct athlete on athlete contact. 70% occur when the athlete is simply running hard, cutting, jumping, or twisting. The greatest number seem to occur when the athlete is quickly deaccelerating—that is, coming to a stop, or coming down from a jump. Often the leg and knee is turned in. No contact is necessary.
Why does this matter?
It means that unlucky or freak collisions are NOT the cause of most ACL injuries. Rather, the injuries have more to do with the condition of the athlete’s strength, balance, and control than the stress the athlete puts upon it. A highly functioning knee is less likely to be injured with the sudden twists and turns of athletic competition. A poorly conditioned knee is much more prone. Thus, with proper identification of athletes that are at risk and subsequent strengthening and conditioning, we can significantly reduce the number of ACL injuries in sports! This is particularly important in female athletes who are far more prone to the injury.
The good news is that much of this can be helped with specific directed therapy and training. Prevention programs have been shown to reduce the injury incidence by 50% or more in some studies. All athletes could benefit from such training and conditioning, but this is particularly true for some women who are particularly prone to the injury.
Where To Start
Today's post is going to look at 3 simple exercises you can do to help prevent ACL injuries. There are obviously many different exercises to do, but these are a good place to start.
Keep your eye out for more exercises!