If you play a sport, you’re keenly aware of the risk of injury that can keep you out of the game for months. One injury you want to avoid is harm to your anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. It’s one of the most common knee injuries among athletes and can be among the most permanently damaging. Even if you’re not an athlete, you can injure your ACL by falling and landing awkwardly.
You don’t have to come into contact with another person to injure your ACL. The majority of ACL injuries— about 70 percent — happen when you’re moving: turning quickly, sidestepping, or landing awkwardly. About 30 percent happen from sudden contact with another person: think football, basketball, or soccer as just a few examples of contact sports. Female soccer players are especially at risk of ACL injury, with up to eight times the risk of teenage boys of ACL injury.
If you suffer a complete tear of the ligament, you’ll require surgery if you want to continue to play your sport at the level you’ve been playing. It takes months of healing and rehabilitation to recover from ACL surgery. Even if you’re not an athlete but enjoy regular exercise, you likely need surgery for a complete ACL tear to stabilize the knee.
Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons at Coastal Empire Orthopedics treat many ACL injuries and focus on preventing those injuries. The following are strategies you can use to avoid a disabling ACL injury.
Year-round conditioning and strength training
No one wants to get injured in the first game of the season. Year-round conditioning and strength training go a long way toward preventing injuries. If you’re on a team, follow your trainer’s instructions on exercise and diet off-season as well as when you’re competing.
Having a strong core, hips, and thighs helps support your knees. Researchers find that strengthening programs that focus on hips reduce ACL injuries, especially in female athletes. Women have wider hips than men, which may make female athletes turn knees inward, leading to injury. Women also have a smaller groove at the bottom of the femur where it meets the knee, possibly restricting ACL flexibility in women. Squats, lunges, and other exercises that strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings help build up needed strength to support your knees.
Likewise, strengthening the muscles in your feet, ankle and legs can help prevent destabilizing twists of your ACL in your knee.
Always warm-up before working out or playing a sport
Cold, stiff muscles are very prone to injury. Loosening up your muscles, tendons, and ligaments can make the difference between a minor ACL injury and a complete tear.
Always take time to warm-up before trying to hit that tennis ball 90 miles an hour. Make stretching an integral part of your warmup routine to help you maintain your range of motion and reduce the chance of injury as you get older. Our sports medicine physicians show you sport-specific stretches that keep you flexible.
In addition to stretching, be sure to get in some gentle cardio during your warmup, whether it’s jogging or riding a stationary bike, for a few minutes before you give it your all on the court.
Practicing proper sports technique
Jumping and landing incorrectly or simply falling awkwardly can cause ACL injuries when too much pressure is placed on the ligament. Practice proper technique for playing your sport. For example, if your sport involves jumps and landings, practicing them helps keep you upright.
Following are best practices when landing:
- Always land with bent knees
- Don’t land knock-kneed; toes should be straight forward
- Knees and hips should be aligned
- Try not to land on one foot
- Try to land on the balls of your feet and roll to the heels
Focus on balance
Balance exercises are great; they can develop strong core, hip, and leg muscles, so you don’t lose your balance from a sudden stop, pivot, or an awkward landing.
Meet with our sports medicine specialist
During a physical examination, our sports medicine physicians can spot any musculoskeletal weaknesses that might hinder your play or cause an injury. In addition to your sports trainer, your Coastal Empire physician is a great addition to your preventive care team.
Call or book an appointment online with Coastal Empire Orthopedics today. We want to be your musculoskeletal health care partner.