Are You Concerned About ACL Tears? Here’s How To Protect Against Them!

By: Dan Steinberg, MS, CSCS, CISSN 

Each year over 2 million ACL tear injuries are reported worldwide, with the greater risk in young female athletes. While a lot of families enroll their children in sports for the many benefits of organized activity, the inherent risks of injury are always present. As the seasons change, summer leagues and sport camps begin to poke their heads out of the covers. This means more activity, and thus more risk. However, don’t be alarmed, be prepared. While there are some indicators for injury risk that cannot be changed (ex. Gender and Hormonal) there are ones that can be (ex. Movement Patterns). Therefore, there should definitely be a healthy dose of general physical preparation before starting any explosive physical activity like sports.

The ACL, as it is commonly known, stands for the Anterior Cruciate Ligament of the knee. Without getting too technical, it is a ligament that provides stability to the knee, protecting the shin from sliding forward and rotational forces on the knee. The most common mechanisms of injury without contact are rapidly changing direction, abruptly stopping, and incorrectly landing from a jump. All of these movements are prevalent in almost every sport. Therefore, preventative measures should be taken in order to prepare the body better to play.

With the ACL, the science has been tested, retested, and solidified. While there are no ways to stop ACL and other injury from occurring, there are plenty of ways to reduce the risk of all knee injuries. Preparatory comprehensive strength, agility, proprioception and conditioning programs can prepare you and your loved ones for a successful summer season. Understanding the need for these interventions is vital to staying healthy and strong with the influx of activity.

First off, before starting any physical activity, you should consult your doctor to make sure you are able to withstand the stresses. After medical clearance, you should slowly increase the amount of work your body is doing. That is where the following physical preparation comes in. If available, the best way to accomplish these goals without extensive self-research is to hire a sports performance personal trainer. Professionals with high levels of education and experience should have ample knowledge to better prepare your young athlete with the tools they need to compete.

Essential parts of all of these programs are addressed in different ways but can happen concurrently.  Strength training programs should be well-rounded, assessing every need of an athlete. Concerning ACL and other knee injuries specifically, strength of the hips and leg muscles are vital. Movements included in any resistance training program should include ground-based movements on both legs (ex. squatting) and one leg (ex. lunging) in all different planes of motion. Competency of movements, fully understanding where the body should be when performing resistance movements, is imperative. As performing resistance training improperly, will likely lead to a higher risk of injury when training and playing sports.

Agility and proprioception preparatory programs allow for a better understanding of were the body is in space without external load. For beginners, simply jumping rope and skipping can provide a small stimulus for the muscles, tendons and ligaments to begin applying stress. After competency with basic plyometric drills, deceleration is the next step on the preparation model. Being able to stop the body after movement is a contributor to knee injury, therefore practicing in controlled environments will allow the body to be aware and adapt to the stress of explosive sport movement.

Conditioning programs are fairly simple to devise but take a focus, patience and consistency to properly implement. Start slowly and work into it. Longer jogs, repeated runs/sprints and other techniques can be used to increase cardiovascular endurance. Slowly increasing the frequency, intensity, duration, density and volume will provide a stimulus great enough to prepare the body for longer games and tournaments.  

 Performing these exercises under some sort of supervision (either from a knowledgeable certified sports performance coach or other source) is highly advised. If the best athletes in the world have coaches, you probably should too. Have fun, good luck and don’t break a leg!

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