Without a doubt the ACL tear is the prime injury risk in American sports. Each week in the NFL, you hear of another injury. Walk out into a girls soccer practice in the fall and you will see at least 1 girl who has had this issue.
We worked with a lacrosse athlete post rehab who knew 4 other girls on her team who had injured their ACL’s within a single season!
What is an ACL tear? Why is it at such risk, especially in female populations? What can we do, if anything, to prevent it from happening?
Keep reading to find out more about ACL injuries and how training can mitigate these issues.
What Is An ACL Tear?
The ACL is one of the four main ligaments of the knee located on the front side of our knee joint
The ACL ultimately keeps the knee joint from gliding forward and resists rotations around the knee joint as well.
This is why an ACL tear is so prevalent, due to the stopping, cutting and turning components of competitive sports, you are bound to have injuries of this type across populations.
Here, you can see multiple time NFL pro bowl wide receiver Jordy Nelson tearing his ACL in a non-contact way (without a player impacting him).
It is that simple. No aggressive impact, no high speed, and it isn’t like this is his first game he has ever played.
What happened? Well, here we have landing and rotation occurring simultaneously. The player lands on his left leg (nearly straight) and then rotates around it. This causes the ACL to be almost sheared off.
This player is expected to be out of his sport until next year
Why Do So Many Athletes Injure Their ACL?
While in the past, physical education classes often helped to build dynamic strength in all ranges, current practices and lack of activity in general have deprived athletes of underlying competency to play.
The real answer? It is hard to know! Here are a list of some factors that can increase the odds of an ACL tear:
Poor Playing Surface
Really, their are even more things that we could track and look at for injury, but these are some of the more common ones. Let’s look at a few more intently
Muscle Weakness: If an athlete is under prepared for the level of play they want to partake in, they have an increased risk on injury. Whether it is soccer, football, volleyball or wrestling, poor strength is one of the biggest factors in injury rates.While in the past, physical education classes often helped to build dynamic strength in all ranges, current practices and lack of activity in general have deprived athletes of underlying competency to play!
Overuse: Wonder why a female soccer player who practices 4x a week, plays school team games and travel tournaments on the weekend tore her ACL? Look at the schedule! If we are playing constantly, with little to no rest, and haven’t taken care of issue #1, it often isn’t if but when an injury will happen. Rest and stress management is needed in order to keep athletes healthy.
Dehydration: Let’s start this one off with some science: “Exercise performance is impaired when an individual is dehydrated by as little as 2% of body weight. Losses in excess of 5% of body weight can decrease the capacity for work by about 30% (Armstrong et al. 1985; Craig and Cummings 1966; Maughan 1991; Sawka and Pandolf 1990). If you have played 1 game already on the weekend and haven’t replaced enough fluids back into the body, you can walk into the next contest potentially at 70% of what you should be. When we start to monitor coordination and the ability to absorb and create force, the effects of dehydration magnify our chances of injury! Not only this, but dehydration will make muscles and ligaments more brittle, decreasing elasticity and degrading their ability to do their jobs.
When you look at an overworked, under-trained and improperly hydrated nation of athletes, it is no wonder we see the injuries we do, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Just like anything, we can mitigate some of the problems by taking a preventative approach to our preparation.
How Training Can Impact Injury Rates
At Superior Athletics, I have worked with a number of athletes coming off of ACL injuries, yet in 10 years (5 of which we have been in this facility) we have seen only 1 athlete injure their ACL. That is nearly an injury rate of 1 in a 1000. Something we are very proud to continue to build upon year after year.
What makes us so successful at managing athletes injury rates and keeping athletes on the field competing and getting better year after year?
Proper Running Mechanics
Proper Force Training
At Superior Athletics we use a combination of a Functional Movement Screen, and sports performance testing in order to design programs and evaluate our athletes. With an assessment, we can gather a general understanding of how an athletes body works. Without an assessment of some type, coaches are just guessing, and guessing is what gets athletes hurt.
One of our tests is a landing test done both on two legs and on one, this allows our staff to properly align an athletes needs to the types of training they do. If an athletes knee caves in, we have an increased risk of them being hurt on the field. Watch the following video to see more of how we do this.
I know it seems self serving to have a strength and conditioning facility saying that strength training is
Look its a corrective exercise!
essential, but lets look at what other medical professionals try and do: A surgeon reconstructs the ACL to make it stronger; a physical therapist tries to strengthen the tissues to be ready to return to more intense training, a strength coach makes you a badass and keeps you from needing the other two.
So is ACL prevention training all Bosu balls and balance drills?
Good training should all have similar qualities, it just becomes how the exercises are presented in context. Proper squat mechanics, development of strength in your hips, working on a single leg, are all things we should constantly do.
The concept that balance is the key to ACL prevention is what causes more injuries. Learning to stop force instantly and reapply it serves an athlete better
Proper running mechanics
You would think after years of running around and moving that we would all be pretty good at running and cutting, and you mostly would be right.
However, with the decline in physical culture in America and the lack of overall development, we are left with athletes unfit to play at the speeds and intensities necessary to compete effectively.
This ultimately leads to injury which limits developmental time and stunts the growth of an athlete, forcing them to the sidelines when it can be cured with just a small bit of coaching.
We have been lucky, that in my 11 years working with athletes and nearly 1,000 total athletes in that time, that we have only had 1 athlete hurt themselves while playing, and that was a contact injury.
Movement can and should be taught at speed and with coaching that improves it for competition, without it you are missing a large part of what can keep athletes safe.
If this information hits home with you and you want more info, you can check out some more information by going here.
Bill Rom is a strength and conditioning coach on Long Island, New York. Bill has been training both athletes and general population clients since 2006. His clients have ranged from adolescents to 70 year old grandmothers, and from peewee athletes up to former and current D1 athletes.
At Prospect Sports, where Bill is the director, he works with a number of professional athletes from the NFL, MLB, MiLB and more.
Additionally, Bill has been published on EliteFTS.com, one of the top strength and conditioning websites in the world, as well as Stack.com; a website dedicated to improving athletes and is currently working on stories for LiveStrong.com.
He also has done a number of speaking engagements including the NSCA and is continuing to pick up more.
Bill is one of the top young strength and conditioning coaches in the country, and arguably the top strength coach on Long Island.
Superior Athletics is a high performance facility located in Farmingdale, NY, roughly 40 miles from Manhattan. We specialize in helping each athlete, whether a 12 year old soccer player, a 25 year old pro, or an everyday mom, achieve their ultimate success in life or in sports