Injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a thick fibrous band of tissue that provides stability to the knee joint, is a prevalent injury amongst soccer athletes. This is one of the most feared injuries because so many athletes suffer from it. Luckily, with cutting edge protocols for early identification, correction and restoration the athlete could be back to prior function in less than one year!
There are two mechanisms of injury including contact and non contact. A contact injury occurs when the knee is subjected to a sudden, valgus force through contact with another athlete. Non contact injuries to the ACL are most often caused by a sudden twist or forceful contraction of the quadriceps with the foot planted and the knee in a valgus position. Often, a sudden stop or change in direction where the athlete firmly plants their foot is enough to stress the ligament beyond its strength.
Immediately following injury, an athletic trainer or medical professional can administer various tests and gather subjective information from the athlete in order to determine severity of the injury. If surgical intervention is required, pre operative physical therapy has become more common in improving post operative outcomes through reducing initial inflammation, controlling pain, restoring range of motion and improving neuromuscular control.
There are three phases following ACL reconstruction surgery in order to allow for proper healing of the graft. Beginning stages include decreasing pain and inflammation and increasing motion and a good quad contraction in order to achieve normal walking pattern. Later stages consist of a progressive strengthening program, balance exercises, running drills, plyometrics and eventual return to sport specific activities.
Awareness of the risk factors associated with ACL injuries and participation in preventative programs can decrease the incidence of ACL tears in athletes. These programs teach the athlete proper body mechanics with jumping, landing and rotating decreasing the risk for ACL instability. For example, my Lower Extremity Strengthening System (LESS) is based on the most current research available and is specifically designed for the prevention of ACL injuries through a 3 week strengthening program of the lower body.