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Athletes, Here’s What You Need to Know about ACL Injuries

A woman does stretching exercises on the floor.
Blog Health Information

/ by Peter Gray, MA, ATC, LAT

Written by Peter Gray, an athletic trainer at the UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine and the head athletic trainer at Henry Clay High School in Lexington. This is the first column in a series entitled The Proactive Athlete, which will teach athletes and others who engage in physical activity how to prevent injuries.

Check out the videos at the end of this post to see how some of these exercises are done.

As an athlete, there are few things worse than being sidelined due to an injury. An ACL injury in particular can be crushing because the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of the major ligaments that provides stability to the knee joint.

These injuries take place most frequently in sports that involve sudden changes of direction, like football and soccer. Over 200,000 ACL injuries occur every year in the U.S. and reports show that injury rates continue to rise. Research also shows that female athletes are more prone to ACL injuries than their male counterparts due to anatomical, hormonal and neuromuscular differences.

But it is possible to reduce the risk of this type of injury through preventive exercises.

Here’s what you need to know about ACL injuries and how to lower your risk:

How do ACL injuries happen?

Most ACL injuries are not caused by a direct blow to the knee. They are caused by uncontrolled lower extremity biomechanics that allows your knee to move in a dangerous way. This suggests that many ACL injuries are preventable if your training focuses on neuromuscular control and lower extremity biomechanics.

What happens when you injure your ACL?

ACL injuries are especially devastating because they can result in a costly season-ending surgery and long-term health effects. With or without knee surgery, odds of developing osteoarthritis are approximately four times greater after a knee injury.

After ACL reconstruction surgery, an estimated 82 percent of athletes return to participation in sports, but only 63 percent return to their pre-injury level of sports participation. This shows how important it is to work with an experienced surgeon, physical therapist and athletic trainer to ensure the best outcomes.

Can you prevent an ACL injury?

There is not one ACL prevention program that has been proven to be the best, but research has shown a decrease in ACL injuries by committing to a multifaceted training program to improve your neuromuscular control and lower extremity biomechanics.

A multifaceted program would include strength training, cardiovascular training, core training, agility training, plyometric training and stretching. You should perform these exercises at progressive intensity levels to properly challenge yourself.

Here are exercises and tips from an ACL prevention program that will engage various aspects of your body and muscles.


Watch these videos for examples of how to properly perform some of the recommended exercises.

Alternating pylometric lunges

Double line touches with explosion to stick

Glute bridge march

Quadruped extension and rotation

Single-leg V up

Standing 90/90 knee extension

 

 

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