How Recreational Athletes Can Prevent ACL Injuries

Hany Elrashidy, MD
April 22, 2017

Across the country, there is a rising incidence of sports injuries in athletes of all ages, gender and level of competition. Females are at increased risk in planting and cutting sports such as soccer, where they are 4-6 times more likely to suffer an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear than male athletes.

The ACL is a key structure in the knee, critical for both stability and cartilage protection. It is one of four ligaments in the knee that connect one bone to another and prevent excessive forward and rotational motion between them. ACL injuries often occur after a sudden change in direction, as when an athlete plants, cuts or pivots, as well as when landing from a jump. Over 70% of ACL injuries occur during sport and more often than not, these are non-contact injuries. 

ACL injuries can lead to significant frustration for athletes whose season or fitness program abruptly ends and who may be sidelined for months or even years. Untreated, ACL tears may have long term consequences as well, placing athletes at risk of recurrent cartilage injury and early knee arthritis. 

Factors that predispose to ACL injury including certain anatomic factors such as differences in the anatomy of the lower extremity and knee in men vs women. Other factors, such as lower extremity strength, muscle balance and correct technique when landing or pivoting are frequent targets of therapy and training programs. 

Several ACL injury prevention programs have been developed to address these modifiable risk factors. These programs help improve muscle strength and balance as well as teach proper techniques for jumping, landing and planting/pivoting in sport. A key component involves improving muscle strength of the core and hip musculature, improving the balance between quadriceps and hamstring strength and plyometric training to improve jumping and landing technique. Research has shown that these programs reliably reduce the risk of ACL injury. 

If an ACL tear does occur in the recreational athlete, an orthopedic surgeon will likely recommend surgery to reconstruct it, especially for athletes involved in “high-risk” sports involving planting and pivoting. The results of ACL reconstruction are excellent, helping athletes across the world return to the sport or activity they love. However, the most effective treatment strategy is preventing an ACL injury altogether, by participating in injury prevention programs, modifying risk factors and decreasing the likelihood of ever sustaining this frustrating injury. The proper prevention training can help to ensure this goal: An exciting and injury-free season or fitness program.

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