How can you avoid ACL tears?

How can you avoid ACL tears? I keep hearing about kids getting them.

Treatment for ACL injuries is effective, but considering the pain, inconvenience, surgery, and lengthy recovery, your best bet is to prevent the ACL injury in the first place.

A growing body of research shows that identifying and targeting weak muscles, such as the hamstrings, can improve strength and coordination and therefore help decrease the likelihood of an ACL injury. In addition, other risk factors such as increased joint motion can be further assessed and corrected to improve performance.

Current studies also demonstrate that specific exercises, such as jump routines and learning to land or pivot properly, help athletes prevent ACL injuries, especially in young athletes. Some experts suggest it may be beneficial to integrate prevention programs during early adolescence, prior to when young athletes develop certain habits that increase the risk of an ACL injury.

Effective methods that help prevent ACL injury include:

• Plyometrics, a type of jumping exercise, used to train and strengthen the leg muscles
• Landing mechanics
• Strength training of hamstrings

Young athletes would benefit from preseason screening programs that identify ACL injury risk factors in young “high-risk” athletes who would benefit from targeted training programs. One validated knee injury prevention program I commonly recommend is the Fifa 11 program: www.fifamedicalnetwork.com/lessons/prevention-fifa-11/ . These prevention programs are more beneficial when athletes start young, before reaching skeletal maturity, so they have time to develop correct habits that decrease the risk of injury. With appropriate identification, prevention programs can decrease ACL injuries by up to 50%.