Over 200,000 injuries to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) occur in the U.S. each year. A tear to the ACL puts most people out of commission for quite some time. In fact, recovery from an ACL injury often requires surgical intervention and approximately one year of rehabilitation.
Can You Prevent an ACL Injury?
We cannot control our anatomy, but we can control our movements. ACL prevention programs work to improve how we move in order to help prevent injury. ACL programs typically focus in three area: plyometrics, neuromuscular training and strength training. Many ACL injuries happen when someone jumps and lands. As the person lands, one knee caves in towards the other knee ( an increased valgus knee position)
Prevention programs focus on plyometric training to teach you how to avoid this positioning. A good program helps you understand how you land from a jump by using feedback. You may watch your body positioning in a mirror or you may have a trained person verbally tell you. With practice, proper landing movement can be achieved.
Neuromuscular and Strength Training
Plyometric training teaches you to avoid vulnerable positioning. Neuromuscular and strength training must be included in order to ensure proper movement. When you move, your nerves communicate with your muscles in order to perform movement. With neuromuscular injury prevention training, you focus on correct muscle firing patterns when performing movements. (For example: One exercise might have you work to make sure your quads and hamstrings co-contract).
When we move, we need muscles to fire equally to control our dynamic movements. We need to ensure the muscles have the proper strength to do so. Often, a person’s quads are much stronger than hamstrings. When they contract at the same time, the quads always win the tug of war. A dominant muscle creates an imbalance that makes us more susceptible to injury. A good prevention program will focus on strength training from the core all the way to the feet.
How Long is the Program?
Research shows that the most effective ACL prevention programs are performed at least 3 times per week for 6 weeks. Start the program in pre-season. Continue some of the components during your sport’s season. Plan to spend 20-30 minutes in order for each session. Don’t rush it.
Devote enough time to each piece of training. Blowing through the program, just to say you’ve completed it, will be ineffective.
Prevention programs are great for people of any age, but research has seen the best results with kids who start at a younger age, usually around 12. They should then continue the program yearly until they are skeletally and muscularly mature. There are several ACL prevention programs out there. We recommend two programs scientifically proven to reduce the risk of ACL injury – Sportsmetrics and Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance (PEP).