The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is a thick band of tissue that connects the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia). The ACL and posterior cruciate ligament, or PCL, form an X-shape within the knee joint that prevents the tibia from moving too far past the femur during flexion and extension, and provides rotational stability for the knee.
Unfortunately, holding the knee together is a big job that puts the ACL at risk for various injuries. Medical professionals in the United States treat more than 400,000 ACL injuries each year, ranging from mild sprains to total ruptures. ACL injuries can be particularly devastating for athletes and other individuals who enjoy an active lifestyle, since they often require surgical repair, followed by months of recovery and rehabilitation.
At SPARK Physiotherapy, our team of highly trained sports physical therapy professionals offers one-on-one sessions designed to help clients prevent progress-derailing ACL injuries, recover from an ACL injury faster, and avoid reinjuring their ACL in the future. Here’s what you should know.
Common ACL Injuries, Causes, and Risk Factors
Most ACL injuries are caused by sudden twisting movements, such as those which can occur when you plant your feet one way while the knees are turned another direction, stop short or pivot too abruptly while in motion, or land wrong after a jump. These injuries are considered sprains and graded by severity:
- Grade 1 sprains indicate mild stretching or other minor damage to the ACL
- Grade 2 sprains indicate stretching so severe that the ACL has loosened or partially torn, but remains intact
- Grade 3 sprains indicate that the ACL has torn in half or pulled away from the bone, resulting in knee joint instability
Additionally, approximately half of ACL injuries also include damage to the meniscus, articular cartilage, or other ligaments.
ACL Injury Risk Factors
These factors can increase your risk for ACL injuries:
- Sports. Playing sports that require a lot of jumping, lunging, and pivoting, such as basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer, and football.
- Sex. Women are three to six times more likely to tear their ACL than men due to a strength imbalance in the leg muscles (stronger quadriceps than hamstrings) and flawed jumping and landing techniques.
- Age. People aged 40 and older face an increased risk for ACL injuries due to normal wear and tear on the knees’ ligaments and other components.
ACL Injury Signs and Symptoms
People who’ve injured their ACL often report hearing or feeling a sudden “pop” before the affected knee gave out from under them. Other common signs and symptoms include:
- Severe pain, especially when trying to stand or walk
- Limited range of motion
- Difficulty walking
If you’ve suffered an ACL injury, our skilled physical therapists can provide the targeted rehabilitation needed for a full recovery.
Our Virginia Sports Physical Therapists Provide Specialized Training to Help Clients Prevent ACL Injuries
SPARK Physiotherapy develops sports physical therapy programs based on each client’s unique needs and athletic goals. Our ACL injury prevention programs include exercises designed to:
- Increase flexibility
- Strengthen leg, hip, and core muscles
- Improve balance and agility
- Teach safe jumping and landing techniques
Tips for Preventing an ACL Injury
Don’t let an ACL injury leave you sitting on the sidelines. Here are helpful tips for preventing these common season-ending ligament injuries:
- Focus on your form. ACL injuries are often caused by landing improperly after a jump. Maintaining good form can help you avoid severe injuries. Make sure to land evenly on both feet, bend your knees when you land, align your body and feet for the landing, and keep knees shoulder width apart.
- Maintain a consistent workout routine. This means training and conditioning year-round to keep the muscles surrounding the knee joint soft and flexible.
- Remember to warm up and stretch before each workout. This essential step loosens your muscles and tendons, increasing flexibility, blood flow, range of motion, and performance.