The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the most commonly injured knee ligament, affecting 400,000 Americans each year.
Tears can occur when the ACL is overstretched, especially during sports that involve cutting and pivoting like soccer, skiing, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball and football. Because teens are the most athletically active demographic group, their knees are continually at risk, and 10 to 15 percent of teens who tear their ACL will tear an ACL again. Girls are five-to-eight times more likely than boys to tear their ACLs.
The ACL will not heal (regenerate) on its own, so standard treatment is reconstruction surgery, which removes the torn ACL and replaces it with a graft of tendon taken from the hamstring or elsewhere. The majority of patients who undergo ACL reconstructive surgery can return to sports within six to nine months of surgery.
A torn ACL is not entirely preventable, since sports such as basketball, soccer, skiing, gymnastics, volleyball and football put athletes at some risk to tear their ACLs. But athletes and active young people can reduce their risk by:
- Maintaining general health and fitness
- Following sport-specific conditioning
- Getting the proper diet, exercise and sleep
- Using proper sport-specific movements, form and techniques
- Using proper sport-specific gear
- Learning which moves cause risks
- Strengthening hamstring and legs, especially for girls
Team members of Boston Children’s Division of Sports Medicine travel to schools, youth groups and sports clubs to teach leg strengthening techniques. Call 617-355-3501 for details.
Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA’s) 11+ Program for training and warming up has proven to cut girls’ sports-related injuries in half. Athletes can complete exercise regimens for:
- Muscle control
- Core stability
The Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance (PEP) Program designed at the non-profit Santa Monica Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Research Foundation consists of:
- Stretching exercises
- Strengthening exercises
- Plyometrics (repeated rapid stretch/contract muscle movements)
- Sport-specific agility exercises
The Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center aims to prevent injuries and other health problems, and its website allows athletes to tailor prevention methods to their specific goals and needs.