ACL Injury Prevention

ACL injury prevention is becoming a more popular focus in many sports.  In the US, approximately 200,000 people per year suffer an ACL injury with about half of these requiring surgery.  The recovery process is long and for sports people, it usually means being side-lined for about one year.  This is definitely a case where prevention is better than cure.

When thinking about ACL injury prevention, there is no one thing you can do to avoid injury, but by being aware of how ACL injuries occur and by incorporating certain elements into your training structure, you can definitely help reduce the risk of injury.  Let's find out how.

How Does The ACL Get Damaged?

ACL injury prevention starts by understanding how the ligament works and how it tends to get damaged.  The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is one of four knee ligaments that are responsible for controlling stability.  It sits between the thigh and shin bones in the middle of the knee joint and controls the forwards and twisting movements of the skin bone (tibia).  Functionally, it works for all movements of the leg, but it is especially important with starting, sudden stopping and twisting movements.

The ACL is flexible and can stretch to a degree, but too much strain through it will cause it to tear.  This usually happens in one of two ways:

1) Direct Trauma: Anything that puts too much force through the ligament such as a sports tackle, hard fall or car accident
2) Twisting:  Sudden turning and twisting the leg when the foot is stuck to the ground e.g. with studs or cleats

ACL Injury Prevention Options

Effective rehab to reduce the risk of ACL injuries should incorporate a number of things:

1) Warming Up

It’s one of the oldest pieces of advice out there for all activities but it really does play an important role in injury prevention.  Warm ups usually last about 15 minutes and should be designed to get your body prepared for activity.  Activities such as jogging, shuttle runs and running in different directions should be incorporated into warms ups focussing on ACL injury prevention.

2) Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises should be incorporated into ACL injury prevention programmes.  Approved use

Another essential part of ACL injury prevention as they help to improve the flexibility and therefore performance of the knee.  Stretches for the quads, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, inner thigh and glutes should all be done.  The most effective way to stretch is to hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat it 2-3 times. 

3) Strengthening Exercises

Improving the strength of the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calf and trunk muscles helps the muscles work together to provide more stability to the knee thus supporting the ACL and reducing the risk of injury.

4) Neuromuscular Training Programs

Neuromuscular training programmes are becoming increasingly popular for ACL injury prevention.  Approved use

This is becoming a very popular part of ACL injury prevention programmes, designed to improve dynamic stabilisation of the knee. They also teach individuals how to land from jumps, pivot and change direction without putting too much force through the ACL. 

One element of this is plyometric exercises - specialised, high intensity exercises to improve power, strength and speed through various jumping and hopping activities.  They work by causing the muscle to first lengthen and then quickly shorten. They should only be done under close supervision as they involve high-risk movements and if done incorrectly, can result in injury.

5) Proprioception and Balance Exercises

Improving your balance and proprioception helps to reduce the risk of ACL injuries.  Approved use

Having good proprioception is a vital part of preventing ACL knee injuries.  Proprioception is the reflex control through small adjustments that provides the stability of the knee.  The ACL provides the primary proprioceptive input at the knee. 

Balance exercises such as exercises on one leg, on a wobble board and with your eyes closed helps improve balance and proprioception and is thus an important part of ACL injury prevention. 

6) Footwear

ACL injuries often occur when the foot is stuck to the ground so where possible, avoid shoes with cleats/studs, particularly in contact sports

7) Knee Braces

Specially designed ACL knee rbaces can help reduce the risk of injury

There is some controversy over whether wearing a knee brace helps with ACL injury prevention.  Wearing a brace can help reduce the risk of over stretching the ligament but they can also create a false sense of security.  In the general population, there is usually no need for a knee brace but in high-level athletes participating in high-risk activities, an ACL knee brace may help.  They can be particularly useful after an ACL reconstruction to reduce the risk of further injury during the rehab and recovery phase

What Next?

Effective injury prevention combines some or all of the suggestions above.  Coaches of high risk activities such as basketball, soccer and football should ensure they are encorporating exercises specifically targeting ACL injury prevention into their programmes to help reduce the risk of injury.

You can find out more about ligament injuries, including the causes, symptoms and diagnosis in the ACL knee injury section.  Alternatively, if you have already suffered from an injury, visit the ACL knee surgery section to find out more about what surgery entails and the rehab and recovery process.

ACL Injury Overview: Causes, symptoms and diagnosis
ACL Surgery: Do you need surgery and what does it involve
ACL Reconstruction: What happens before, during and after surgery
ACL Surgery Problems: Potential problems encountered after surgery
Recovering From Surgery: Recovery time guide following surgery
ACL Rehab Protocol:  Rehab exercises & activities after surgery
Injury Prevention: How to avoid an ACL knee injury

Go to ACL Knee Injuries or ACL Surgery

Your Comments

Share your knee pain experiences with others, whether it be ideas, top tips, things that worked well for you, problems you've had etc.......

© 2010-2016
Last updated 12th October 2016 is a trading name of Wilson Health Ltd
All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions apply

Protected by Copyscape Online Copyright Search

The material on this website is intended for educational information purposes only.  It should not substitute or delay medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

All the info you need, in our new book
Find out more

Read Reviews or Buy Now


See Also

Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis of ACL Injuries

Surgical Options for ACL Injury

Recovering From ACL Surgery

Problems After ACL Surgery

Search This Site

Visitor Comments

“This is one of the best self-help & info sites of any medical condition I've ever seen. Excellent work.” Amy, UK

"Your site and exercises have been a lifesaver! The explanations are so clear.  Thanks for your help and excellent work."  Claire, US

"I'm an RN. This is really useful, easy to understand info."
Jan, US

“Thanks to Lots of improvement after just two days.” Suresh, India

"This is the best self-help site I have ever seen for knee pain. It is very difficult to find such a comprehensive volume of information on one site without being advised to "Just purchase this product!" Many, many thanks" Jennifer, US

"Superb site, many thanks, so much helpful content especially the targeted strengthening exercises for me.” Gerri, UK

“Thank you so much, your response makes so much sense. Thank you again for your time in answering my questions.” Cynthia, US

"Your website is a gold mine, thank you very much."
Gavril, Denmark

"Thank you for this website and all the information, especially the videos. I suffer from knee stiffness and pain when standing and now I have some exercises I can do - thanks to you." Claire, US

"I LOVE your website. Out of all the others, yours is so informational and easy to read." Michelle, US

"This is the best site dealing with knee problems that I have come across. I will be putting the stretches and exercises into practise. Thank you!"
Margaret, S. Africa

"The information given by you is fabulous. Thank you." Nihal, India

"Your site is excellent! It covers everything you need to know about knee pain and it's treatment in an easy to understand format. Thanks!" Linda, US

"Brilliant website - highly recommended! And as nurse (25yrs exp) its written expertly and is very explanatory and easy to understand. Thank you!" Jo, UK

Famous ACL Injuries

Dan Coppen: NFL Denver Broncos
Derrick Rose: NBA Chicago Bulls
Michael Owen: Newcastle Football Club
Lindsey Vonn: Alpine Skier