Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries
By: Courtney Wohlwend, ATC/LAT Unity Point Health Des Moines – Athletic Training Services
The Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four major ligaments in the knee. The ACL crosses in the middle of the knee, connects your femur (thigh bone) to your tibia (shin bone), and helps provide stability in the knee. Most ACL injuries occur during sport or fitness activities. The most common mechanism of injury is sudden stopping, pivoting, cutting, and landing.
When an ACL injury occurs, many times the athlete will complain about hearing a pop, they will have severe pain, the knee will swell, and/or they will complain about the knee “giving away” or feeling unstable. If you suspect an ACL injury, it is important to see an allied healthcare professional immediately. Many schools offer a Certified Athletic Trainer, and the athlete should see this healthcare professional. The Certified Athletic Trainer will determine if the athlete will need a referral to a physician or orthopedic surgeon. If an ACL tear is suspected, the physician will likely order an MRI to confirm diagnosis. Depending on the severity of the ACL injury, treatment may include surgery to replace the torn ligament, followed by rehabilitation to help regain strength and stability.
Women are significantly more likely to have an ACL tear than are men participating in the same sports. Women tend to have a strength imbalance, with their quadriceps being stronger than their hamstrings. The hamstrings help prevent the tibia from moving too far forward during activities, which aids in the function of the ACL. In addition, when landing from a jump, some women land in a position that increases stress on their ACL (their knee goes inward). Other possibilities for why women are more likely to tear their ACL’s than men include hormonal differences and the makeup of the notch where the ACL attaches.
How can you prevent an ACL injury? Research suggests that ACL injuries can be reduced by more than 50% by using a preventative training program. Prevention programs typically are a combination of plyometrics, agility, balance, strength, and flexibility.