Basketball, rugby or football players dread getting an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tear. Unfortunately, despite the concerted prevention efforts, a recent study conducted by orthopaedic surgeons from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia showed that cases of ACL injuries have increased over the last twelve years among young athletes.
The Institute of Sport Physio attributes this dramatic increase to the rising popularity of year-round competitions and training. Young basketball athletes, for example, join different teams so that they can compete throughout the year. Studies also show that the majority of cases of injuries that need surgical intervention occur during actual competitions.
What is ACL injury?
The ACL comprises the posterolateral and anteromedial bundles that function as stabiliser. The anterior cruciate ligament helps prevent the femur (thigh bone) from sliding backwards on the tibia. It also stabilises the knee from rotating. Injuries or tears occur when the bundles’ work is compromised by a muscular imbalance or an external force. A torn ACL presents a second- or third-degree sprain of the ACL.
The ligament becomes overstretched or torn when the foot is firmly planted and the knee twists and locks at the same time. Such an ACL injury is noncontact and is common in athletes playing basketball, soccer, football, and gymnastics, which involve sudden change in direction. ACL injury may also occur when the tibia is pushed away from the femur. This kind of injury usually occurs during a fall when skiing, in which the front of the knee receives a direct blow. Athletes describe hearing a pop when this injury occurs.
Why is ACL injury common among young athletes?
Medical experts providing physio in Grafton also attribute the increased injuries among young athletes to adolescents’ growing interest in one-sport events. Prior to these events, young athletes perform repeated, brutally inefficient exercises with little time to recover. They also note that the injuries often occur in sports that rely heavily on shifting, pivoting and jumping.
Additionally, young women are three to eight times more prone to ACL injuries than boys. They have a different anatomic structure that puts them at a higher risk of developing the injury. Women have a wider pelvis than men, which causes the femur to meet the tibia at a higher angle (Q angle). This uncommon angle increases the force that the ACL can withstand in the event of any altered motion, thus increasing the risk of damage.
Women’s genetic composition also contributes to their vulnerability to the ACL injury. Their muscles are more elastic, thus reducing the protection the muscles can provide to the ACL. Hormonal changes during menstruation also affect elasticity. Furthermore, a female’s hamstring reacts and contracts slower than that of males, increasing the risk of ACL injury when landing from a jump.
Preventing ACL Injury
Nearly 70% of ACL injuries are non-contact in that they are caused by bad mechanics. Physiotherapists cite that most non-contact ACL injuries are preventable:
Mechanics. Valgus collapse poses a high risk of developing ACL tear. Athletes should learn how to squat, jump, lunge and land without ankle or knee collapse. Physiotherapists state that the body resorts to the most comfortable patterns when it is tired. As such, teaching athletes how to land and bend with proper mechanics helps prevent the injury. They should also learn how to land and pivot at a young age.
Basketball players, for example, develop ACL injuries when landing from a jump. It is because the legs collapse inward, putting tremendous stress on the knees or they remain stiff, stressing the ligaments. They can avoid ACL injuries by landing on the knees with bent hips to absorb impact, ensuring that the body maintains an upright position when landing, and avoiding placing too much stress on the forefeet and toes when landing or jumping.
Moreover, athletes should engage in formal sprints before partaking in the sport as it helps the them develop stability at fast speeds and change direction with sufficient agility.
Strength. Learning how to execute a particular technique does not always guarantee a safe land during a game. This is why it is important to strengthen the lower body with exercises in order to improve stability. After an ACL repair, most rehabs focus on quadriceps strength to determine how well the athlete will perform. This is because most young athletes overuse their quadriceps to perform most exercises, ignoring their glutes. The glute medius is particularly important in preventing ACL injury as it determines the strength of the core and the hips.
Recovery. Even professional athletes have a recovery period before participating in the next game. Young athletes should allow a reasonable period for their bodies to recover.
Hamstring Exercises. Most athletes focus on the muscles around the hips, knees and ankles. To get an athlete ready for on-field games, it is crucial to link the muscles together with exercises that translate power from the lower body to the upper body such as dumbbell squats and presses.
To better understand ACL injury or receive the proper treatment should you suffer from it after a game, consult with physiotherapists at trusted clinics, such as Institute of Sport Physiology. It is very important that you get the right advice for your condition before you set out for another game.
How to Prevent ACL Injuries in Basketball, Stack.com
ACL injuries a growing problem for high school athletes, Triblive.com
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries – Prevention, WebMD.com