How to Prevent Sports-Related ACL Injuries

ACL injuries have reached epidemic levels in high school, college, and professional sports. Between 100,000 and 200,000 athletes sustain this knee injury each year, and up to one-third of them will reinjure the ACL again. 

ACL injuries, when severe, are career-ending events. One study concluded that one-third of those with an ACL injury do not return to competitive sports. Of those who do, only about one-third play at their previous competitive level. 

Michael Hood, MD, our board-certified orthopedic surgeon, leads the team at Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in treating patients with ACL injuries. We also focus on prevention, so if you do sustain an ACL injury, we work with you to help you learn ways to keep another one from occurring. 

What is the function of the ACL? 

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four important knee ligaments at your knee joint. The ACL is made of tough tissue and connects your large thigh bone, your femur, with the large bone in your lower leg, your tibia. 

Your ACL enables your knee to move back and forth easily, but at the same time, it prevents your knee from hyperextending. It also prevents over-rotation of your knee when you twist and pivot while dancing, playing sports, or performing other activities.  

How does an ACL injury occur? 

Less than one-third of ACL injuries occur because of contact trauma, such as a direct blow that causes the knee to hyperextend or bend inward at an awkward angle.

It’s more likely to occur when you change direction, stop suddenly, or land awkwardly from a jump

Why are ACL injuries serious for athletes? 

Ligaments don’t have many blood vessels to carry healing nutrients to an injury. Once your ACL is injured, the blood supply is very limited. If the ligament is severed and you have a complete tear, there is no blood supply, and it cannot heal on its own

Teens who injure an ACL are about 10 times as likely to develop early onset arthritis by the time they’re in their 30s. Teens are also susceptible to depression from time away from normal activities and the rigors of recovery. 

Athletes who want to continue competitive play need surgery for a severed ACL in order to have a knee that’s strong enough for that activity. 

After surgery, you can expect to need physical therapy for many weeks, followed by workouts led by trainers who know how to work with athletes with an ACL injury. It can take eight months to a year before you return to your previous type of competitive play. 

How can I help prevent an ACL injury? 

You can be proactive in taking steps to avoid an ACL injury. 

Work with a sports medicine specialist

Physicians and researchers are now focusing on prevention at an early age. Working with a sports medicine specialist can help. 

Your Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine physician and physical therapist can identify range-of-motion difficulties and muscle weaknesses that could lead to an injury. 

For example, female athletes have less hip muscle than men, which can cause their knees to bend toward each other when landing from a jump, making them prone to ACL injuries. We’d much rather see you before an injury so we can help you prevent it. 

Follow an individualized strength-training program

A sports medicine specialist understands that hip and thigh muscles are critical in helping to prevent an ACL injury. Core strength is also important. Strong hamstring and quadriceps muscles help to protect your knees against injury. 

Your specialist shows you specific exercises geared to your sport that strengthen key muscles. Flexibility is also important. A stretching routine helps you develop the flexibility you need to avoid injury. 

Ensure that your coach trains in proper technique to avoid ACL injuries

Teen athletes and their parents as well as adult athletes should expect the coach and trainer to use research-based training techniques that help prevent ACL injuries. 

Focusing on neuromuscular control in terms of balance and coordination — for example, learning the proper way to pivot — is part of the training, as is knowledge of correct biomechanics when running and jumping. 

Researchers are now urging that knee injury prevention programs be incorporated into children’s and teen sports so that they develop proper habits. 

Always warm up before you play 

You know that warming up before you play is important. When you realize it can help you avoid an ACL injury, it gives you that much more motivation to never skip this step. If your muscles aren’t warmed up, you might not be able to land a jump or pivot correctly. 

Call or book an appointment online with Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine for all your orthopaedic needs. Our prevention and treatment strategies are state-of-the-art. 

We have offices conveniently located in West Memphis, Arkansas, and Collierville, Tennessee. You can also send a message to the team here on our website.

You Might Also Enjoy...

5 Lifestyle Changes to Make When You Have Osteoporosis

5 Lifestyle Changes to Make When You Have Osteoporosis

Your lifestyle sometimes makes a big difference in your health. One example is osteoporosis, which can improve or worsen depending on your lifestyle. Learn about changes you can make to slow the progression of osteoporosis.