Although Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries are not as career ending as they used to be, they are still significant enough to greatly impact an athlete’s season and future potential. Because of this, they are obviously best avoided. Although no injury is completely unavoidable, preparation prior to competition is essential to reducing the risk.
Two primary causes for a non-impact ACL injury: inadequate deceleration and poor muscular balance. Deceleration is the ability to slow down and control force production. This is an extremely important skill for athletes to master during training. When athletes lack the ability to decelerate efficiently, they put themselves at risk for a non-impact ACL injury during rudimentary actions like changing direction fast or landing from a jump.
The following tips are essential to include in your comprehensive preventative conditioning program:
Proper Warm-Up: A proper warm up is key for preparing the body for activity. By warming up your muscles first, you greatly reduce your risk of injury during competition of practice.
Strength Training: Strengthening of the hamstrings, quads, core and gluteus musculature can help to maintain upper and lower leg alignment, thus reducing stress and excessive rotation at the knee.
Improve Balance: Single-leg exercises and drills can help to eliminate imbalance differences between the right and left leg.
Controlled Plyometrics: Vertical jumps and plyometric exercises should be included but must be controlled, not allowing the knees to collapse together. This inward movement (valgus collapse) of the knees is a predictor of ACL injuries. Start by using both legs and progress to single leg lateral jumps.
Injury Prevention Screening: Screenings can be a key to possibly identifying individual needs, thus further reducing the risk of injury. Mobility (range of motion) and/or stability (strength-related motor control) asymmetries must be addressed. The Functional Movement Screen and similar objective standardized measures can be used to assess for possible impairment of proper functional movement.
Consistency is key to reap the benefits from a comprehensive preventative conditioning program. For best results, the above listed workouts and training methods should be completed at minimum three times a week.