An injury to the anterior cruciate ligament is one of the most devastating injuries that an athlete may suffer due to the frequent need for surgical repair as well as the lengthy rehabilitation process. Unfortunately for a large population of High School athletes, the rate of this type of injury has increased over the last twenty-five years.
FUNCTION OF THE ACL
The National Academy of Sports Medicine states that the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is essential for normal knee function and stability. The ACL prevents excessive anterior translation of the tibia on the femur (keeps the shin bone from moving too far forward), excessive internal rotation of the tibia (inward rotation of the shin bone), and knee hyper-extension. It also prevents the knee from excessive valgus forces (bending the knee sideways toward the body).
Non-Contact Soft Tissue Injury
70% of ACL injuries are attributed to non-contact incidents. This means an athlete’s muscle imbalances have become so detrimental that they can no longer produce the correct biomechanical forces to perform their sport. It also means that this type of injury can be avoided!
Strength & Conditioning Coach Notes
Ligaments and tendons grow at a quarter of the rate that muscles do. As coaches and athletes, we need to focus on correcting muscle imbalances and strengthening the soft tissues (ligaments and tendons) in order to minimize the potential for injury. A few methods that we use with our athletes to help strengthen their knee stability are:
1. Strengthen Hamstrings to Prevent Quadriceps Dominance. ACL injuries have been noted in many athletes that have a higher ratio of quadriceps strength to hamstring strength. Utilizing exercises like an inverse curl or glute hamstring developer can create increased hamstring strength that will help athletes prevent soft tissue injury.
2. Unilateral Strength Exercises. An exercise such as a single leg deadlift would promote posterior chain strengthening as well as stability.
3. Low Intensity, High Volume Exercises. Exercises such as prone hamstring curls utilizing ankle weights for high repetitions reduce the stress on the joint while increasing blood flow to the posterior chain. This will aid in increasing the cross sections of the soft tissue fibers and therefore strengthen the stability of the associated joint.
4. Banded, High Volume Exercises. Utilizing the principles of Accommodating Resistance, we can teach the athlete’s body how to handle increased muscle speed while promoting increased blood flow to the posterior chain.
If athletes in any program are experiencing non-contact injuries, that program must be evaluated for deficiencies in addressing muscle imbalances. Soft tissue injuries are preventable when athletes take part in effective strength programs. Too many young athletes suffer career altering injuries; this no longer can be accepted as the norm. Let’s do better for our athletes and provide them the scientific strength programming that will help them reduce their risk of injury.