ACL and Knee Injury Prevention

Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to speak with numerous parents, coaches and athletes regarding their individual or team training programs. I have noticed an alarming trend, very few of these programs spend time focusing on ACL injury prevention.  With such a high occurrence of the injury and taking into account the severity shouldn't more time be dedicated to its prevention?  

 The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four major ligaments that connect the bones of the knee joint. The ACL ligament helps to hold the bones in proper alignment and help control the way your knee moves. The ACL provides stability to the knee and prevents excessive forward movement of the lower leg in relation to the femur.  A common misconception is that an ACL injury is caused by contact during competition.  In fact, over 70% or ACL injuries occur during non-contact activities.   

Our goal at the Institute is to allow our athletes to perform at a high level on a consistent basis.  With that in mind, in every program we design there is a strong emphasis on the muscular and stability components needed to help in the prevention of ACL injuries. 

When Assessing an Athletes Risk for ACL Injury The Coaches at The Institute Focus on Three Contributing Factors: 

Does The Athlete Have Functional Stability in the Knee? 

The great majority of youth athletes typically lack neuromuscular control in their knee joint.  This allows the knee to buckle and assume a valgus position during athletic movements.  In order to correct this an athlete should spend a portion of their warm up performing simple stability exercises.  These exercises will provide stability in the knee joint as well as activating the gluteal muscles which provide stability for lower body athletic movements.

Can The Athlete Decelerate Properly?  

A torn ACL can be grouped into two categories: contact and non-contact. An example of non-contact injuries can be when an athlete rapidly decelerates, followed by a sharp or sudden change in direction. Non-contact torn ACL injuries have also been linked to heavy or stiff-legged landing as well as twisting or turning the knee while landing, especially when the knee is in the valgus position. By teaching an athlete to decelerate properly they will have the ability to absorb the force of their motion and transition to their next motion safely and effectively.  

 Is the Athlete Quad Dominate?

Most athletes have stronger quads because of the amount of activation they receive during most athletic movements.  Research shows that increased quadriceps activation and less hamstring activation resulted in increased ACL loading during the landing phase and therefore increased the risk of injury. With this in mind, greater hamstring strength and glute activation should be a priority for all athletes. The hamstrings and glutes, however, are often overlooked during training. When designing an effective program for athletes the trainer or coach must put a strong emphasis on hamstring strength and glute activation. 

 

Did you know that female athletes are up to 8 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than male athletes? With that in mind it is important to get female athletes into a structured strength and conditioning program at an early age.  With proper preparation the likelihood of an ACL injury can be greatly decreased.

 

Michele Bergh