ACL Injury Prevention

March 1, 2017 @ 8:55AM — by Aron D Rovner, MD
Tagged with: Osteoarthritis
ACL Injury Prevention
The knee joint is a highly complex structure comprising of bones, tendons, ligaments and tissues that work together to give you strength and mobility.
An ACL injury is an injury of one of the major ligaments in the knee - the anterior cruciate ligament. ACL injuries usually occur during participation in sports that involve sudden stops, jumps or changes of direction.
When the ACL is damaged, there is usually either a partial or complete tear across the tissue. In some milder injuries, the tissues may become overextended rather than torn.

Symptoms of an ACL injury

One of the most obvious symptoms of an ACL injury is a ‘pop’ which can either be heard and/or felt in the knee as soon as the injury occurs. Other symptoms that follow shortly after include:
  • Swelling and redness, usually apparent within a few hours of the injury.
  • Moderate to severe pain.
  • Restriction in the range of motion of the leg.
  • An inability to bear weight on that leg.

Who is at risk of developing an ACL injury?

ACL injuries are fairly common in participants of certain sports, such as football, volleyball, soccer, tennis, basketball and gymnastics. However, evidence has suggested that women are more likely to develop an ACL injury than men who are taking part in the exact same sport. The reasons for this vary from a strength imbalance in the thighs to the natural way that women are more likely to land from a jump.

Diagnosing an ACL injury?

Diagnosis of an ACL injury is often possible using a physical examination. Your doctor will check for swelling and redness of the knee, as well as checking the spectrum of mobility that you have.
You may also be referred for imaging of the knee, which will help your doctor rule out any other causes and determine the severity of your condition. Imaging tests could include x-rays, ultrasound and MRI scans.

Complications of ACL injury

Although preventative steps can be taken to prevent an ACL injury, studies have found that those patients who have experienced one have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis is the condition when the cartilage in the joint begins to deteriorate and the once smooth surface becomes rough and worn.

How can I prevent an ACL injury?

Unfortunately, there is no single exercise that can prevent an ACL injury from occurring. However, by building and improving on the strength of your lower extremities, learning how to twist and land safely (with the help of your coach, a personal trainer or physiotherapist) and ensuring that you warm up before undergoing any exercise, we believe that you can take to help protect your ACL injury.

Warming Up

If you attend any form of group exercise it may seem that the great deal made of warming up is a little over-zealous. However, warming up is essential as it helps get blood circulating to your muscles and joints before you start exercising. Some studies have shown that performing a warm-up before commencing with exercise can actually cut your chances of suffering an ACL injury in half*.
Stretches are a vital part of any warm-up routine as they can prepare the ligament for the use ahead. You should focus on performing adequate stretching in the lower half of your body, including your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips and inner thighs.

Building strength

To build strength and promote stability in the knee, there are some simple, low-impact exercises that you can perform. These are usually referred to as closed-chain exercises and include leg presses, squats and lunges. Adding in some gentle cardiovascular exercise, such as a stairclimber, elliptical trainer or ski machine, also helps work your heart and prepare your knee for slightly more intensive use.