An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is a tear in one of the knee ligaments that joins the thigh bone to the shin bone. The ACL is the main stabilizing ligament of the knee joint. It keeps the knee from wobbling inward.
ACL injuries don’t just happen to professional athletes—even weekend warriors can hurt this ligament. The knee may buckle or give way suddenly, or there may be a “popping” sensation followed by pain and swelling. Physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals can educate you on how to protect your knees and reduce your risk of injury.
Most ACL injuries occur during sports that put stress on the knee and/or involve sudden stops or changes in direction, such as basketball, football, soccer, rugby, lacrosse, and skiing—just to name a few.
They can happen:
- When you change direction suddenly while running
- When you stop suddenly while running
- When you jump (or land) incorrectly
- When you make physical contact with another player (i.e. being tackled in football)
- Concussions can also raise the likelihood of an anterior cruciate ligament injury (Source)
There are several things you can do to help prevent an ACL injury:
#1 – Make sure to warm up properly.
Every time you participate in a physical activity, take the time to warm up your muscles beforehand. A good warm-up will help increase blood flow to your muscles and reduce stiffness.
This advice gets repeated a lot, but that’s because it’s true—a proper warm-up can help reduce your risk of injury considerably. And it doesn’t need to be complicated—a light jog followed by some dynamic stretching (stretches that involve movement) can do the trick, or even better, talk to your trainer or athletic therapist about what kind of warm-up would be best for the activity you’re participating in.
#2 – Wear proper shoes for your sport that fit well.
Something as simple as the type of shoe you wear during physical activity can impact your risk of injury. Make sure you’re wearing shoes that are appropriate for your sport and that fit well.
Shoes that are too big or too small can increase your risk of rolled ankles and blisters, and shoes that don’t provide enough support can put extra strain on your knees.
#3 – Strengthen your muscles, especially your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
Weak muscles, especially around the knee, can increase your risk of ACL injury. By strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee—the quadriceps (thigh), hamstrings (back of the thigh), and glutes (buttocks)—you can help stabilize the knee joint and reduce your risk of injury.
#4 – Be aware of your surroundings when playing.
Be aware of other players around you and what they’re doing. If someone is coming at you from the side, for example, be prepared to stop or change direction quickly.
Yes, it’s easy to say “be aware of your surroundings,” but it can be harder to actually do it when you’re in the moment and focused on the game. Do your best to keep an eye on the big picture, and not just what’s immediately in front of you. Even the ground below you can be a hazard—uneven surfaces, holes, and obstacles can all contribute to an injury.
And naturally, if you’re playing on a slippery surface (this means you, hockey players and winter athletes) or an uneven surface (this means you, trail runners and anyone who plays a sport on grass) that can also make you more susceptible to an ACL injury.
#5 – Use proper technique when participating in your sport.
Using proper technique during physical activity can help prevent injuries.
For example, when playing soccer, try to avoid contact with other players by using your body to shield the ball rather than your legs. This will help protect your knees from any potential impact.
If you’re a runner, make sure to land on your heels first and then roll forward onto your toes. This will help you better absorb the impact of each step rather than taking all the force on the front of the knee joint.
If you feel like you’re not as familiar with proper technique for your sport as you should be, ask a coach to help you out.
#6 – Don’t try to play through pain. If you’re injured, see a qualified healthcare professional.
If you start to feel pain, don’t push through it. If the pain is mild, take a break and see how you feel after resting for a bit. If the pain is more severe, it’s time to see a healthcare professional. Continuing to play through pain and soreness can lead to further injury.
While some ACL injuries are milder than others and can be treated with rest and physiotherapy, other ACL injuries can be serious and require surgery to repair. Recovery time can take several months. Remember that there is also the risk of re-injury, even after the knee has healed.
If you think you may have injured your ACL, see a qualified healthcare professional, such as a physician, physiotherapist, or athletic therapist. They can help develop a treatment plan appropriate for your situation.
At Continuum Health Centre in Victoria, BC, our integrated support team (IST) can work with you to create a customized rehabilitation program that is tailored to your specific needs. Call us today at 1-778-433-7737 or click here to book an appointment now with one of our physiotherapists.