How to Protect the Knees of Young Athletes
What is going on with all these serious knee injuries in youth sports? Why do young women seem to tear their Anterior Cruciate Ligaments more than young men?
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is a support ligament inside the knee that travels from the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone), limits excessive forward motion of the tibia, and is crucial to overall knee stability.
Seemingly innocent, non-contact movements such as landing from a jump, twisting, cutting, or knee hyperextension are the most common mechanisms for ACL tears.
Studies involving several sports (basketball, volleyball, soccer) indicate that young women tear the ACL at a higher rate than young men. Several theories abound as to the reason, and a more popular thought is that abnormal landing mechanics can increase injury risk.
A preferred landing or turning occurs with the hip, kneecap and second toe lined up. Land or turn with a knee that "collapses" inside of the hip and second toe (much like the picture above) and the knee injury risk goes higher.
Tearing an ACL brings up some difficult decisions. The athlete can select sports that do not involve cutting or jumping, or if they wish to continue higher-risk activity, surgical reconstruction with 6-9 month rehabilitation periods may be needed. Without activity modification, very few young, active athletes can return to high-level sports without frequent knee pain, instability and swelling.
Does the increased chance of injury mean that young athletes should not play higher-risk sports?
Of course not.
I definitely think that the higher risk potential requires that certain precautions be taken to help protect the knees.
How can an athlete protect his/her knees?
Sports-specific ACL injury reduction and knee neuromuscular training programs have been developed based on good studies that show significant reduction in ACL injuries.
Contact me for further details and specific drills/exercises particularly designed for use in weekly soccer practice warm-ups and can be applied to other jumping sports such as basketball and volleyball.
Other Knee Friendly Techniques include:
- Land from a jump on both legs as single-leg landing brings about a higher risk for ACL tear
- Land or cut with the knee slightly bent (not completely straight)
- Strengthen the hamstring muscles- these support the ACL in reducing forward tibia (shin bone) motion
- Controlled plyometric exercises (bounding and leaping) may strengthen the legs and reduce risk of ACL tears
- Make certain the athlete has good basic jumping and landing skills before starting full speed on-field play
- Knee braces have not been shown to prevent an ACL injury