How To Prevent an ACL Injury
Injuries to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) can be devastating for an athlete, resulting in the need for surgical repair and a long rehabilitation process. Many times athletes will miss part or an entire season of play after an ACL injury. Because of the physical and psychological toll on a competitive individual, the prevention of these injuries has become extensively researched to identify risk factors and ultimately reduce the rate of injury. All aspects surrounding an ACL tear have been studied from the anatomy of the knee to the playing surfaces of various sports. The result of analyzing injury statistics and measurements has concluded that while some factors are simply uncontrollable, it is possible to significantly lower an athlete’s chances of injury.
Research has found that gender and hormone levels (females have an increased risk), anatomical factors within the knee joint, and position of knee in relation to the hips all increase the possibility of an ACL injury, but those circumstances are beyond the influence of prevention. Since a large majority of ACL tears are non-contact injuries, professionals have determined three key risk factors that can be modified to help individuals avoid injury: bio-mechanics, muscular imbalances, and over training. These three risk factors are relate-able to one another. If the body has muscular imbalances, then chances are the athlete will have improper bio-mechanics. Over training, or rather inadequate recovery causes fatigue of the muscles, which could lead to poor form as well, contributing to injury.
In order to develop athletes with appropriate strength of the lower body, focus of training is important for the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteus muscles. Attention to these areas helps prevent excessive inward motion of the knee that places stress on the ACL. Proper strength training avoids over developing one area. One common deficiency in athletes is a lack of hamstring strength compared to the quadriceps. In addition to strength training, it is important for young athletes to develop proper jumping and landing technique to avoid the pain of a knee injury. Jump training is essential to educate the young athlete to land softly on the toes first with the knees bent to help absorb the load of the body weight. Jump training also helps to educate the position of the knees in relation to the toes. Knees should be aligned with the toes shoulder width apart and not come out past the toes when landing, which can place excessive stress on the ACL.
Since the determination of risk factors and learning to address weaknesses in an athlete’s bio-mechanics, the incidence rate of ACL injuries has decreased. Programs have been specifically developed to address strength deficits and improve jumping form. Success with these programs has been remarkable in the female population. Sports-metrics is one such program and CHI Health Sports Medicine has athletic trainers who are certified instructors to work with individuals and teams to lower the risk of injury. Prevention for an injury that was once considered a “career ender” can make a big difference for an athlete.