ACL Prevention for Athletes

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Research shows that approximately 70% of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries occur with little or no contact with another athlete. ACL injuries can occur when the athlete over extends the knee joint.  The common sports that are linked to high rates of ACL tears include soccer, skiing, football, gymnastics and basketball.

Can you start by explaining what the ACL is and where it is on the body?

Dr. Kim Bauernfeind: The ACL is called the anterior cruciate ligament. It’s one of four major ligaments that helps to stabilize the knee. Its primary role is to prevent excessive movement at the knee, specifically preventing the shin bone from sliding out in front of the thigh bone.

What are some of the types of ACL injuries that female athletes sustain and what are the most common causes of these injuries?

Dr. Kim Bauernfeind: Injuries to the ACL can occur when the ligament is over stretched or torn. This can lead to sprains, avulsion fractures or full thickness tears of the ACL. These injuries are commonly associated with additional damage to other parts of the knee including the surrounding bone, muscles or the meniscus which is the padded cushion inside the knee joints. Injury to the ACL can lead to immediate pain especially with standing on the leg as well as to swelling and knee instability. The patient may also hear a popping sound at the time of the injury.

It’s a common misconception that ACL injuries only occur in contact sports. In fact, research shows that actually 70% of ACL injuries occur with little or no contact with another athlete. ACL injuries can occur when the athlete over extends the knee joint, when the athlete takes a blow to the side of the knee such as during a tackle or when the athlete stops moving or changes direction too quickly during movements like running, jumping or turning. Common sports that are linked to high rates of ACL tears include but are not limited to soccer, skiing, football, gymnastics, and basketball.

Do you have specific training programs to help prevent ACL injuries, and what’s involved?

Dr. Kim Bauernfeind: ACL injuries are painful and debilitating and they remove the athlete from their play. ACL injuries can be expensive and the rehab after the injury can range between 6 to 9 months if not more if intensive rehab before the sport player can return to what they love to play. Therefore, it’s in the athlete’s best interest to prevent the ACL injuries from occurring through participating in preventative training programs specifically with a physical therapist. The preventative programs that we implement at Ferraro Spine and Rehabilitation include a progressive strengthening program improving the athletes balance and correcting the athlete’s body mechanics to prevent injuries from occurring.

What are some basic exercises that all female athletes should be doing to prevent ACL injuries?

Dr. Kim Bauernfeind: Prior to initiating exercises, it’s my recommendation that the athlete undergo initial evaluation or they go through a screen with a physical therapist. This way the athlete can be screened to see what body mechanics they use when they complete their sport. As a physical therapist our specialty is to evaluate the athlete’s movement and then to create a program that will help that athlete prevent the injury to the ACL. The main components of an ACL prevention program should include proper body mechanics, strengthening and balance and can be done through specific exercises that the physical therapist builds into the program. In some of my preventative programs, I like to include squats, lunges, planks and also add in plyometric, hopping, jumping movements on both legs, one leg just to give the patient a variety because when they’re working or playing in their sport you want to make sure that they’re prepared for when they cut, when they turn and when they change speed so that they don’t have any injuries during their sporting events.

Are most athletes aware of ACL Prevention or is this new to the world of sports?

Dr. Kim Bauernfeind: ACL prevention is not new to the world of sports but it’s important for players, families and parents as well as coaches to be aware of how preventative programs can benefit the overall health of the athlete. ACL injuries are painful and can also limit how much playing time an athlete would get and commonly occur in adolescent athletic males and females. They also have long term effects in athletes including increased risks for early onset degenerative osteoarthritis. The goal of ACL prevention programs is to train the athletes so that there is a decreased risk of injury allowing them to continue to enjoy playing the sports that they love and also to maintain a healthy lifestyle later on in life.

RC: Well, thank you so much Dr. Kim for joining us today. I want to thank you for your time and for sharing this information with us.

Dr. Kim Bauernfeind: Thank you for having me. It was my pleasure sharing a little bit about how we rehab at Ferraro Spine and Rehabilitation and sharing and educating with the audience.

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