ACL Injury Prevention

Written By: Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by: KPE Medical Review Board

ACL Injury Prevention: ACL tears can be really serious and may take up to 1 year to recover from. Find out all about the best prevention strategies to reduce the risk of injury

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.  When it comes to ACL injuries it is definitely a case where prevention is much 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.

What Causes ACL Injuries?

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). 

Awkward twisting at the knee is a common cause of ACL injuries

Functionally, the ACL 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

In some cases, other structures in and around the knee may also be damaged at the same time, such as a cartilage tear or MCL tear.

ACL Injury Prevention Options

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

ACL tears can be really serious and may take up to 1 year to recover from. Find out all about the best ACL injury prevention strategies to reduce the risk of injury

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 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

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Page Last Updated: 02/10/18
Next Review Due: 02/10/20

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