The ACL is a stabilizing ligament in the knee connecting the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). In sporting events the ACL is susceptible to sprains and ruptures; soccer, football, skiing, softball, basketball, and volleyball are some of the more common places they occur. They can also happen outside of sports when people slip or inadvertently step in a hole. ACL tears are devastating; they generally require surgical reconstruction and then nearly a whole year to recover until it is safe to return to sports. Athletes often do not return to their previous levels of strength and athleticism after an ACL surgery (especially if they don’t have adequate rehabilitation), and sometimes have lingering discomfort in the knee many years after surgery. The emotional toll on young athletes is significant as they lose a year of their athletic careers.
Athletes that tear an ACL are at an increased risk for re-injury (a 2nd tear), especially if they have not been through a proper course of physical therapy - and they are not just at higher risk for re-injury of the same knee, but for the other one that wasn’t injured also!
The ACL is often torn either in contact sports when an athlete gets pushed or hit (these are harder to prevent), or they also commonly tear without contact when an athlete jumps and lands awkwardly or changes direction abruptly. These non-contact tears often occur toward the end of a game or practice when the athlete is fatigued, and these types of injuries are more preventable.
Fortunately, there are strengthening exercises and training techniques that coaches and athletes can implement to reduce the chances of ACL tears from happening. Simply put, getting your quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip muscles really strong, and learning to land gracefully when jumping or decelerating are great ways to minimize risk of ACL tears. Research has shown that athletes who properly condition and strengthen their bodies are less likely to rupture their ACLs, and coaches can implement these guidelines to protect their athletes. Another added benefit is that the guidelines will also improve athleticism!
Enjoy the following video that shows 8 exercises that will reduce the chances of ACL injuries.
Coaches who are managing the strengthening and conditioning of athletes should implement these strengthening exercises and other conditioning drills at the end of practice, not the beginning. Practice drills and skills techniques should take place at the beginning of practice when athletes are fresh, and they should finish their practices with the strengthening drills. Doing this in the wrong order will put athletes at an increased risk of injury as they will be fatigued while going through their skills training and practice drills.