Google “ACL tear, NFL,” and be prepared to cringe. You’ll see images of football players grasping their knees, writhing in pain. You’ll see that in October, the Rams’ Jake Long was declared out for the season because of a tear. You’ll also see that Detroit’s Stephen Tulloch injured his ACL after he celebrated sacking Aaron Rodgers. Every year, there are approximately 250,000 to 300,000 ACL injuries.
Though the NFL displays its players’ tears on a weekly basis, women are seven times more likely get an ACL injury than men.
Why are the injuries so prevalent? According to Angela Austin, Center Manager at Baylor Rehab Frisco, the ACL provides stability at the knee joint. “The primary function of the ACL is to prevent the tibia, or shin bone, from sliding forward against the femur, or thigh bone,” she says. “The ACL also works to support certain rotational movements that occur during quick changes in direction. Along with quick lateral movements, poor jumping and landing mechanics are the most common cause of these devastating injury.”
ACL injuries can take you out of your daily exercise routine for six months (and, sometimes, up to a year), they’re expensive to repair, and are painful. So what can you to do prevent them? According to Austin, there are uncontrollable factors, which means you can’t always guarantee prevention. But there are a few things you can do:
- Perform a full body dynamic warm-up prior to training or the event. This can include exercises such as a short three- to five-minute jog, walking knee grabs, hamstring kicks, high knees, and walking lunges.
- Muscle balance is important. Emphasize hamstring and glut strengthening.
- Incorporate more core stabilization into your training routine. Crunches and sit-ups are not the only way to improve your core. In fact, these types of exercises do little to improve stability. Focus more on functional exercises such as planks and push-ups.
- Find a qualified sports medicine professional to provide education and instruction in the correct mechanics and positioning required for safe jumping/landing and agility movements.
- Along with plyometrics and agility training, the sport medicine professional will be able to train your body to improve neuromuscular control. The brain sends signals to the lower extremity muscles for constant corrections in position. If this pathway fails, or if the signal is too slow, injury can occur.
- Follow your training or event with gentle static stretching, holding each position for 45–60 seconds.
Angela Austin is a licensed doctor of physical therapy and Center Manager at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Frisco. Austin is also Titleist Performance Institute certified to perform medical screens in conjunction with video swing analysis. Baylor Rehab has more than 50 outpatient therapy locations across North Texas. To find the nearest location, or if you need to be evaluated by a sports medicine professional, contact [email protected] or go to BaylorHealth.com/BIR.