No injury is 100% preventable, especially an ACL injury. It doesn't matter how safely you train or how well you follow recovery guidelines. A simple misstep on a jump or cut could be all it takes for a tear to occur. (See The Athlete's Guide to the ACL.)
A recent ESPN feature with Dr. Tarek Souryal, head physician for the Dallas Mavericks, reported there are between 250,000 and 300,000 sports-related ACL injuries per year, the highest incidence occurring among females aged 15 to 25. Females are actually four to eight times more likely to suffer an ACL injury. But as you've seen on SportsCenter, injuries are not gender-biased. They can happen to any athlete at any age.
The knee is a stable joint. Unfortunately, the design of the knee makes it more susceptible to injury when its stability is compromised. This doesn't mean knee injuries are inevitable. But it does mean a goal of your strength and conditioning program should be to prevent injury as well as to make you a better athlete.
When the muscles supporting the knees are weak, fatigue sets in quicker and muscle reaction deteriorates. When you jump or cut, your muscles fail to react as quickly as they should to brace your knee for landing. (For more information, see STACK Science: How Knee Injuries Occur and How to Prevent Them.)
As an athlete, your best bet for prevention is to follow a well-rounded program, including techniques and exercises that increase your full-body range of motion and strengthen "problem areas"—those most susceptible to injury, like the hips, ankles and knees.
Here are a few exercises you can do at home to increase your range of motion and improve your lower-body strength and stability
These strengthen the muscles of the hips and thighs, specifically helping with hip abduction.
- Place super band under feet
- Assume athletic position with feet outside shoulder-width and hips low
- Alternate hands as you grab the rest of the super band and pull hands up to chest where the band makes an "X"
- Keeping your feet wide, shuffle from side to side.
Wall Squats with Ball Squeeze
Performing the squatting motion while holding a medicine ball activates your hip adductors.
- With feet just outside shoulder-width, perform bodyweight squat with your back against a wall
- Hold a light medicine ball (preferably sand filled) between your thighs just above your knees and hold
Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat
These increase mobility in the hips and strengthen the lower body, reducing the risk of an ACL injury.
- Place one foot on a bench/box/stairs, and step the other leg out in front of you
- Keeping your back strong, squat down and lower your back knee until it touches the ground
- Stand up by driving through your feet to reach the starting position
Strengthening the anterior tibialis will aid in proper squatting and jumping technique.
- Sit on the ground
- Wrap a super band around a stationary object like a pole or bench
- Wrap the other end around the top of your foot
- Starting with your foot extended in plantar flexion, pull your toes back towards your face against the resistance of the band to perform dorsiflexion
For more by Layton Westmoreland, visit his blog.