Addressing ACL Injury Prevention

aclinjury

Awareness of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) knee injuries is increasing, yet prevention programs are still lacking. ACL injuries continue to have devastating consequences for athletes, especially younger ones.

Young athletes compete in more games but are more inactive off the field than ever before. That’s a bad combination. Overzealous parents and coaches push them to compete at the highest level through early specialization and year-round play, while neglecting the most important aspect of sports development: training.

If you combine over-competing, inactivity and a lack of physical preparation, you have a recipe for disaster.

Many studies over the past few years have found that ACL prevention programs actually improve performance as well as prevent injury. A study by Noyes and Westin in 2011 found that a program that reduces ACL injuries also concurrently improves athletic performance variables. The study proved that prevention programs improve strength, vertical jump, speed and agility, confirming what many of us in the sports performance world already knew—that the key to reducing ACL injuries and increasing performance is improving athletes’ efficiency in fundamental movement patterns.

By efficiency, I mean an athlete’s ability to control and manipulate his or her body through a variety of fundamental and sport-specific movement patterns. This ability is evaluated during ACL injury risk screenings with exercises like the Drop Jump, Single-Leg Squat and Single-Leg Hop and Stop. These screens look at the athlete’s ability to control and produce force, both of which are affected by the neuromuscular system.

Athletes who are “at risk” have difficulty with the screens and most likely exhibit neuromuscular deficits in other fundamental movements. A neuromuscular training intervention consists of exercises targeted to improve the ability to accelerate, decelerate, cut, jump and land.

 – Josh Funk, DPT, CSCS, is the founder and owner of Lax Factory. A former professional lacrosse player, he works with players from youth to collegiate levels.

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