Dealing with Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury

By Jess Walter

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are common in sports such as football, basketball, netball, and alpine skiing. They have a big impact on athletic performance, because approximately 79% of people go on to develop knee osteoarthritis after an ACL tear. A study by T Nessler et al called ACL Injury Prevention: What Does Research Tell Us? stresses the importance of ACL injury prevention as a way to avoid the long-term effects of this injury. It all begins in youth – programs which utilize neuromuscular training and strength training at a young age show the most promise in reducing ACL injuries.

What Does An ACL Injury Involve?

The anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) is found inside the knee joint. It provides the knee with rotational stability and stops the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur. An ACL injury occurs when this ligament is torn, most during sports that involve sudden stops, changes in direction, or jumps. Its symptoms include a popping sensations in the knee, severe pain and inability to continue practicing sport, swelling, a reduced range of motion, and the knee giving weight when bearing weight or playing one’s normal sport.

How Can ACL Injuries Be Prevented?

As mentioned above, the earlier neuromuscular and strength training take place, the better. Prevention programs show a high success rate (52% in female athletes and 85% in male athletes) when preventive programs are adopted. There are six important components of a prevention program: early age; correct sports movements; consistency of sessions; frequency (sessions should last 20 to 30 minutes and commence pre-season), feedback; and exercise variety. There are three main components of an ACL prevention program: plyometrics (focusing on good technique in movement); neuromuscular training (which work on balance and stability); and strength training combined with resistance training.

What Treatments Exist for ACL Injuries?

Treatment for ACL usually involves several weeks of rehabilitation involving exercises provided by a physiotherapist. Injury is sometimes recommended for athletes who will need to perform jumping, pivoting and cutting movements regularly, or for those who have more than one ligament or cartilage injured. During surgery the damaged ligament is removed and replaced with a tendon graft taken from a donor or from another part of the knee. New tissue then grows over this graft. The process of recovery is long and can take between eight and 12 months of rehabilitation.

If you are a professional athlete, ACL prevention is key, simply because treatment is long and the reinjury rate is high. Studies have shown that around 2.3% to 13% of those operated can have a similar injury after surgery. The knee joint is a complex network of tendons, bones, and ligaments so if you are in pain, it is vital to determine the exact cause of the problem so treatment can commence. From an early age, athletes should undertake exercises focusing on strength, balance, and stability, to enjoy their sport in an injury- and pain-free manner.

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