How to Prevent ACL and Knee Injuries

Growing up in Maine I’ve always loved skiing! One of the things I always have in the back of my mind while hitting the slopes is hurting my knees.

What many people aren’t aware of is the fact that physical therapy is a proven effective way to prevent knee injuries. Research done on female collegiate athletes and ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury prevention has shown nearly an 80% reduction in knee injury rates in girls who completed the prevention program in comparison to those who did not.

Females injure their ACL’s more frequently than men do because of our anatomy. We generally have a wider pelvis than men do and this places increased stress at the knee. It is important to improve flexibility, strength (especially in your legs, hips, and core), balance, agility, and your ability to jump and land safely.

First and foremost, it’s important that you warm up and stretch before participating in any sort of athletic activity. You have to get your blood flowing to your muscles and joints and make sure that you are flexible enough to move freely in order to maintain ideal form. Include stretches for your thighs, calves, and hips, and pay particular attention to any areas that feel tight. Next it’s important to build strength, agility, and body awareness. Squats and lunges are just a couple of exercises that can help you do this – having good technique is key!

Squats – Stand with your feet about hip width apart. Sit back. Bend from your hips and knees. Stick your butt out with your chest high. Keep your knees behind your toes. Be sure to keep your knees and feet facing straight ahead as you squat.

 

Too easy?! Try squatting on just on leg, be careful not to let your knee turn inward!

Walking Lunges – Perform walking lunges for 20-30ft then turn back. As you step, keep your front knee over your ankle in line with your toes. Keep your core tight!

 

Core strength – Strengthening the muscles that surround your back, chest, abdomen, and hips can help improve your overall form, make you more powerful, and reduce your risk for injury. Planks are a great full body exercise to help activate your core!

Agility-Changing Direction – The more agile you are the less risk you run for injury. Run to a line or cone, 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. Start by running slowly so you can concentrate on good form. Pick up the pace and maintain good technique. (Remember: Hips over knees over ankles!)

One of the final things I like to instill in athletes is proper jumping and landing technique. Always jump, land, stop, and move with your knees directly over your feet. Never let your knees collapse inward.

Jumping and Landing Safely – Jump straight upward several times. Spring up, then land with your feet and knees pointing straight ahead. Don’t let your knees collapse together! Let your knees bend softly each time you land. Practice these jumps in a mirror in order to perfect your form. Practice proper landing technique until it becomes natural. Keep your chest high and over your knees, your knees over your toes, your toes straight forward, and land like a feather! With any jumping activities we want quality over quantity! It’s better to do the movement correctly than to do as many as possible.

Finally, the most important part of this all is making sure you get adequate rest. Get enough sleep, incorporate rest days, and alternate easy and hard workouts in order to reduce your risk for injury and make yourself as strong as possible!

 

By Megan Cutter, DPT

Back in Motion Physical Therapy – Gorham Clinic

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