Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are becoming increasingly common leading doctors who work with schools and youth sports organizations to encourage training to reduce the risk of ACL tears in young athletes.

When an athlete quickly changes direction, suddenly stop, or land on their leg incorrectly, an ACL injury can occur. Sports like basketball, soccer, football, lacrosse, and gymnastics are among the sports that are most commonly experiencing ACL injuries.

An ACL injury is the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament and many people who experience them often hear a “pop” in the knee when it happens. Treatment will depend on the severity of the ACL tear and may include rest and rehabilitation exercises to help the athlete regain strength and stability. In cases where the torn ligament needs to be replaced, surgery is required.

A clinical report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics says that neuromuscular training programs that strengthen leg muscles, improve stability and teach people how to move safely should be encouraged.

Programs that have included strength training have shown to reduce the rates of ACL injuries successfully. The training programs have included jump training and plyometric and tailored sessions for individual athletes.

To prevent ACL injuries and the possibility of ACL surgery, young athletes need to be taught to move properly. Commonly, coaches will only teach game-play mechanics and specific skills and strategies. However, they fail to take the time to teach them how to move properly. The coaches should teach basics such as the mechanics of squatting, running, and landing.

Most sports involve sprinting, sharp direction changes, hard deceleration, and jumping and these are exactly what cause ACL tears. Injury prevention programs focus on flexibility, balance, agility, safe jumping, and landing, and strength training focused on the core, hips, and legs.

Here are guidelines and exercises that can be done alone or with the team to help prevent and ACL injury:

 

Strengthen

Adequate strength in the hips and thighs is crucial to preventing ACL injuries. Exercises that build strength include squats and lunges. Remember to practice proper technique.

 

Squats

  • Stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
  • Sit back.
  • Bend from your hips and knees.
  • Stick your buttocks out with your chest high.
  • Keep your knees behind your toes.
  • Keep your knees and feet facing straight ahead as you squat. Don’t let your knee turn inward.

 

Lunges

  • Stand upright, feet together
  • Take a controlled step forward with your right leg, lowering your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to 90-degree angles. The back knee should point toward but not touch the ground, and your front knee should be directly over the ankle.
  • Press your right heel into the ground, and push off with your left foot to bring your left leg forward, stepping with control into a lunge on the other side.

 

Agility-Changing Direction drills

  • Run to a line or point on the field or court
  • Plant your outside foot without letting your knee collapse inward to change direction.
  • Move in patterns that take you front to back, side to side and diagonally.
  • Pick up the pace and maintain proper technique – hips over knees over ankles

 

Jump and Land Safely

Jump straight upward. Land with your feet and knees pointing straight ahead. Don’t let your knees knock. Bend your knees gently each time you land. As you practice jumping and landing safely, it starts to feel second nature.

Practice these jumps with a teammate. Whether you are jumping to catch a ball or jumping over a line on field or court, be mindful of your landing.

Remember, through strengthening and proper technique, ACL injuries are preventable. Coaches should prepare their young athletes for the possibility of them by teaching them both the mechanics of the sport and how to avoid injury.