Have you had an ACL injury which required surgery? If so, have you had an additional knee surgery in less than 2 years? If you’re a young female athlete, it’s much more likely that you answered yes to both of these questions.
Soccer, basketball, tennis – we’re participating in more sports and starting younger than ever. But while these activities have their benefits, including keeping us active and teaching us about teamwork, what happens when we get injured?
And does the rigorous schedule and playing year round lead to an increased risk of injury? The answer is yes.
A study by researchers at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery looked at surgery statistics for ACL patients under 21 from a New York state database. They found that eight percent of patients with a primary anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction had another ACL surgery, and 14 percent had non-ACL knee surgery at a later date.
“Women are far more likely to sustain ACL injuries than men – anywhere from two to eight times more likely in female athletes.”
The average time between the first and second ACL surgery was 1.6 years, and the average time between the first ACL reconstruction and subsequent non-ACL knee surgery was 1.4 years, showing that it didn’t take long for reinjury to occur.
Researchers also noted that the study might actually underestimate the actual number of repeat ACL tears, since the database didn’t include patients who did not want to undergo surgery again.
Unfortunately, ACL injury isn’t just something that affects young people. In fact, women are far more likely to sustain ACL injuries than men – anywhere from two to eight times more likely in female athletes.
It may be because higher estrogen levels lead to looser ligaments and less protection, because a woman’s ACL may be smaller than a mans, making it more injury-prone, or because our bodies are aligned differently, especially at the quadriceps.
But regardless of the reasons, what can be done to prevent and treat ACL injuries in our young athletes and in ourselves?
Here’s our 5 tips to help protect your knees and prevent you from having to undergo the knife:
Learn Proper Mechanics. Learn the appropriate form for squatting, lunging, jumping, and landing without knee and ankle collapse. By bending the knee, pivoting, and landing with proper mechanics, you can reduce the risk of valgus collapse, one of the greatest risk factors for a torn ACL.
Increase Strength & Balance. Building strength in the quadriceps, gluteus medius (the gluteal muscles on the outer surface of the pelvis), hips, and core can help reduce ACL injury risk. Plyometrics, a rapid powerful movement which lengthens a muscle then shortens it, increases muscular power. Closed-chain exercises like leg presses, squats, and lunges are also beneficial, along with cross-training with the stair climber, elliptical, or stationary bike. And wobble or balance boards will increase core balance.
Prepare During the Preseason. Get your body ready for your sports season by engaging in endurance training for at least a month prior. And if you have to take a break from your routine for a while, ease into it instead of jumping right back in.
Allow Recovery Time. Even the pros get time off, and so should we. Repetitive movements and overuse, along with intense activity, can make you injury prone. Make sure you’re getting the proper nutrition, enough sleep, and adequate rest time between matches.
RICE. If you do injure your ACL (usually indicated by a pop, followed by pain and swelling of the knee), the best thing to do is to follow the RICE procedure immediately: rest the muscle, ice the injured area, compress with a bandage, and elevate the leg above heart level to minimize swelling. Then, get to a doctor as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis and course of treatment.
While there’s no way to guarantee an injury-free season, the best way to protect yourself is by flexing your knowledge and your muscles. So don’t be afraid to get out there and win!
What have you been doing to protect your knees? Have these practices been working? Let us know your thoughts!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.