Keep your knees safe: ACL injury prevention

by John Polousky, MD

Fans of many sports, including soccer, know the anxiety of watching a player go down, grabbing a knee in obvious pain. An injury involving the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, can end an athlete’s season or even a career, and girls are four to six times more likely to suffer this injury. Fortunately, there are some steps athletes can take to aid in ACL injury prevention.

What’s an ACL?

The ACL is the ligament in the middle of the knee which prevents the shinbone from sliding out in front of the thighbone. An ACL injury most commonly occurs are when:

  • an athlete gets hit on the side of the knee
  • the knee joint is overextended
  • the athlete stops quickly and changes direction while running, landing from a jump or turning

Here are some “knee safe” tips:

  • Strong gluteal and hamstring muscles help prevent the risk of ACL injury. Kids can strengthen these important muscles through free play activities such as swinging on the monkey bars, games which involve running or climbing up and down the slide. 
  • Several studies show strength and plyometric (jump) training is effective in ACL injury prevention, decreasing injuries among 14-18 year old girls by 74-83 percent. Many girls tend to land from jumping with their knees moving inward (knock-kneed), and training females to land with straight knees is believed to reduce the rate of injury to the ACL. Successful training programs incorporate jumping up with hands extended over the head (like blocking a basketball shot), dipping the hips down low (like scooping a ground ball in softball), shuffling in lateral motions (the motion to defend an opponent in soccer) or bursting into a full speed sprint.

You can learn more about ACL injuries and prevention at our partner site, OrthoInfo.

Below are some exercises you can do in order to protect your knees from injury!

Our student athlete warms up her knees by recreating the motion of landing.

Bursting into an aggressive sprint is a great way to condition knees for activity.

Quick, side to side shuffles help prepare knees for game-time activity.

Dips and practicing proper alignment for knees can help prevent injury during practice or games.