No serious athlete takes an ACL injury lightly. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is an elastic band of tissue that plays a crucial role in knee stability, which could mean the difference between a big win and a devastating loss. While the risk an ACL injury is high in contact sports, it could also just take a simple twist or hyperextension of the knee to put your athletic career in jeopardy.
Common ways to Injure Your ACL
- A tackle or collision to your legs from the side
- Aggressive cutting (quickly decelerating and changing direction while running, landing from a jump, or turning)
- Stopping suddenly
- Landing with poor technique
- Aggressive pivoting (quickly changing direction or cutting around an obstacle with one foot solidly planted on the ground)
- Overextending your knee
Common Symptoms of an ACL Injury
- Severe knee pain and inability to continue activity
- Swelling in the knee within 24 hours
- Loss of full range knee motion
- Tenderness along the joint line
- Discomfort while walking
- Instability in the knee
Your knee is comprised of many intricate parts. Any twist or tweak can cause serious discomfort and inconvenience. However, when it comes down to it, proper body mechanics and strengthening exercises can lower your risk of injury. The experts at Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine have compiled a list of best practices as a guide to help keep you in the game; but, if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms for an ACL injury, make an appointment immediately to seek further treatment.
Proper Mechanics to Prevent ACL Injury
There is no secret to ACL injury prevention, but there are best practices to ensure you maintain proper form to promote overall body stability. Taking the time to learn proper body mechanics is a crucial step to protecting your knees, and it all begins with good alignment. Below are best training practices to establish sound biomechanics and encourage protective physical actions on the field.
When Running, Stopping, Jumping, Landing, Pivoting or Cutting:
- Move consistently and with control
- Keep your chest high and centered over the knees
- Keep ankles, knees and hips aligned at all times
- Do not let your knees collapse inward
- Bend knees to allow for smoother impact when landing (diverting force from the joints)
- Cut to the left or right using your inside leg instead of your outside leg
Strengthening Exercises to Prevent ACL Injury
Proper form: Stand up straight, feet shoulder-width apart, making sure your hips, knees and feet are aligned. Drop your hips back and lower your body with your head up. Do not allow your knees to come forward, lower with your hips moving backward, keeping your back straight. Once you’ve lowered yourself into the squat position, drive yourself back up into the standing position with your heels. Tighten your glutes and your core as you straighten up. Repeat as desired.
Proper form: Stand up straight, feet shoulder-width apart, making sure your hips, knees and feet are aligned. Drop your hips back into the squat position, keeping your shoulders and head forward, then launch up through your heels to jump. When landing, make sure you land soft on the ball of your feet with your knees bent, and then drop back to your heel, ending with your hips back into the squat position. Repeat as desired.
Proper form: Stand up straight, feet shoulder-width apart, making sure your hips, knees and feet are aligned. Drop your hips back, and lift one leg, making sure your grounded leg still lines up with your hip. Launch into a sideways jump with your heel on the grounded leg, and land lightly on the ball of your foot on your opposite leg. As you land, make sure your hip stabilizes your knee in the landing, and keep everything in line as you drop your hips back into their original position. Repeat as desired.
Proper form: Stand up straight, feet shoulder-width apart. Lift one leg onto a small box, or box of your skill level, and make sure your raised foot, knee and hip are all aligned on the box. Drive up your lower leg using the leg on the box. As you lift your grounded leg up, bend the knee as you lift. While you lift your leg, lift your opposite arm up at the same time. Repeat as desired for each leg, lifting opposite arm and opposite leg the entire time, launching your lower leg back up as you near the ground. Repeat as desired.
Double Leg Hamstring Curl
Proper form: Lay flat on the ground or yoga mat with a ball near your feet. Position your legs on top of the ball supporting your body weight at the base of your heels. Lift your hips up straight, keeping your feet, knees and hip aligned, and tighten your glutes. Then, curl the ball in towards the body, rolling the ball support from your heel to the bottom of your feet. Extend the ball back out, returning the support back to your heels, maintaining your hip lift, and then slowly release your glutes to lower your hips back down. Repeat as desired.
Ball Walk Out
Proper form: Start with your stomach on a ball with your arms out. Roll yourself forward on the ball, keeping your back straight and abs tight as you walk the ball out from under you. Continue to walk the ball out with your arms shoulder-width apart until you are in a plank position with your shins balanced on the top of the ball. Slowly lift one leg up at a time, tightening your glutes as you do. Then, walk yourself backwards onto the ball into your original position with control. Repeat as desired.
Single Leg Bridge
Proper form: Lay down flat on your back with one knee bent, keeping your core tight. Keep your pelvis in a neutral position. Lift your hips off the ground, driving through with your heel and make sure your extended leg remains extended and straight. As you lift your hips as high and as straight as you can, keep your core tight and squeeze your glutes. Hold your hips in the lifted position for a moment and then slowly lower your hips and leg back down. Repeat as desired.
Single Leg Balance Reach
Proper form: Balance on one leg and keep the knee slightly bent while reaching down to touch your toes with the opposite hand. As you lower your hand, be sure to hinge at your hips to feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Return to a full upright position by actively contracting your glute, while again keeping your pelvis and spine in a neutral position. Slow and controlled is the key to this exercise. Repeat as desired.
Other Exercises that Will Help Build Strength
- Walking Lunges
- Side Planks
- Hip Bridges
- Chops and lifts
- Single Leg Balance
- Heel Touches
- Wall Squats
When Should I Consult a Knee Specialist?
Injury is nearly inevitable when it comes to high-impact sports. But no matter the intensity level, any athlete can potentially sustain an ACL injury. The question of when you should consult a knee specialist is answered with a resounding: as soon as possible. If you experience any symptom of an ACL tear or injury, especially resulting from a direct collision to the knee, make an appointment immediately.
Arthroscopy: the Answer to Terrible ACL Injuries
In the past, an ACL injury could end your career outright. Today, with the help of arthroscopic ACL surgeries and refined surgical techniques, most athletes are able to return to their sport of choice within a year of treatment. Dr. Steve Hamilton is a sports medicine physician and orthopaedic surgeon at Beacon Orthopaedics who specializes in arthroscopic surgery. Here’s what you can count on when you schedule your surgery with Beacon.
What to Expect
This surgery entails two small incisions made near the joint; the surgeon inserts a camera into one incision and then accesses the joint to make the repairs through the other. This double sided process allows a full view of the joint without open surgery.
At Beacon, your family is able to see exactly what the surgeon sees via our viewing rooms. These rooms are separated from the operating rooms by a glass wall, and the video feed from the arthroscope is displayed on a TV in the room. Beacon also provides a surgical nurse to explain the procedure and answer any questions.
Most patients are able to go home a few hours after surgery, and can return to their normal routine within just a few days. Scarring is minimal, since the procedure is performed using tools similar in diameter to that of a pencil.
- Do not take a bath or soak until advised by your physician
- Get enough sleep to boost recovery
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Keep the area around your incisions clean and dry
- Elevate your leg while you rest
- Move your toes and ankle as much as your bandages allow
- Bend and straighten your knee slowly several times during the day
- Try to walk every day post-op
- Talk to your doctor about additional exercises as needed
- Immediately stop activities that cause sharp pain
Get Back in the Game with Beacon Orthopaedics
Combining proper mechanics, body awareness and key strengthening exercises with your regular training routine will help maximize knee stability, help prevent ACL injury and promote good habits that will enhance your performance. But accidents can happen. Even the strongest athletes can slip or lose their footing and the results can be excruciating to say the least.
At Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, we have years of experience with ACL tears and knee injuries. Dr. Hamilton and the sports medicine team are here to help you resolve any injury and get you back on your feet faster. Schedule an appointment with him today.