So you have probably heard of your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and likely even know someone who has torn theirs. We hate to say it’s a common injury, but if you play sports or are around athletes enough it may seem that way. It is the most common torn ligament in the knee and often times requires surgery to fix with a good 6-9 months of rehab to follow. Unfortunately, it can be a season ending injury for most athletes. If you want to learn more about the anatomy of an ACL tear you can visit our education page on ACL tears by clicking the link. It will show you the anatomy, common causes, and the most common treatments for an ACL tear or sprain. But today we’ll will talk about how to protect your ACL from injuries.
Here are the top 3 ways to protect your ACL:
1. Improve your biomechanics
Biomechanics is a term we use to describe the way you move. It will vary from person to person and can also vary depending on age and even gender. One biomechanical fault more common in female athletes is that their knees tend to drop inwards when they plant their legs. This collapse can create slack in the ACL, predisposing it to injury. One way to determine if you are falling into this pattern is to get some feedback when you’re performing an athletic movement. And there is no better resource to spot this biomechanical fault than your physiotherapist. At Elite Sports Injury we perform a functional movement screen to assess common athletic movements and determine if there are any mechanical deficits that could lead to an injury.
2. Fix any muscular imbalances
Do you activate more of your quad muscles or hamstrings when running and cutting? Do you have weakness in your hips that causes instabilities at your knee? Theses are things we will look at when we are assessing your risk for an ACL injury. Your hamstrings play an important role in protecting the ACL as they both perform the same function… preventing the lower part of your leg from translating forward. So hamstring strength is important in not only prevention of an ACL tear, but we also focus on it following a tear to help with the function of the new ACL. And if you have weakness in the hip muscles that control the stability of the knee you can be setting yourself up for not only ACL injuries but other knee injuries as well. Many people don’t realize that hip strength plays an important role in knee stability. When is the last time you did hip strengthening exercises?
Many of today’s young athletes play the same sport year round. This causes muscle imbalances (see above) by training the same muscles over and over, and then neglecting other important muscles (such as your hip or hamstring muscles). Overtraining can also cause mental fatigue which can cause you to become lethargic or lazy with routine tasks, causing an increased risk of injury. You want to vary your sports, or cross train, to help both muscle imbalances and mental fatigue.
Protecting your ACL is important if you want to have a fun and safe season, no matter your sport. When looking to protect your ACL we suggest that you look at all three of the points listed above: mechanics, imbalances, and overtraining. How many do you think you could improve upon? If all three, then we suggest you get to work, as you are currently a perfect storm for an ACL injury. Some of these things are hard to notice yourself and may require a trained eye to spot. One of the best things you can do to find out your risk factors is to get evaluated by a physiotherapist. If you have any questions, leave us a comment below or stop by one of our clinics in the Winnipeg area. We look forward to seeing you and helping you have a great sporting season!