Injury Prevention Series: ACL Tears

The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is one of the main stabilizing ligaments in the knee.  ACL tears are mostly seen in the athletic environment, especially with females.  Below, you will note several exercises you can easily perform at home to help reduce the chance of an ACL tear.  All exercises should start with no weight, and slowly progress to dumbbells and/or barbells for more resistance. Please keep in mind, ligament tears are not completely preventable.  If you feel that you have injured your knee, and possibly have a torn ligament, contact an orthopedic doctor ASAP.  Please contact a doctor before beginning any new physical regimen.

Squats – The squat is one of the easiest, and most effective, exercises for the lower body.  The squat exercise helps strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, and buttocks.

Stand with feet shoulder length apart and place arms out in front for balance

Stand with feet shoulder length apart and place arms out in front for balance

Squat until your knees reach a 90 degree angle. Bend at your hips and knees, not your ankles. Like you would sit on a box.

Squat until your knees reach a 90 degree angle. Bend at your hips and knees, not your ankles. Like you would sit on a box.

Basic Lunges – Lunges are great at developing the hamstring muscle group, while also strengthening the quadriceps and buttocks.

Maintain balance throughout the exercise. Much like with the squat, do not let your knee travel past your foot

Maintain balance throughout the exercise. Much like with the squat, do not let your knee travel past your foot

Diagonal Lunges – Do not progress to diagonal lunges until there is a strong comfort level with basic lunges. Diagonal lunges can help develop the groin (adductor) and additional knee stabilizing muscle groups.  This variation to the basic lunge exercise will also allow you to train the main stabilizing muscles of the knee in a different direction.  Most ACL tears occur in a non-contact environment.  Performing a diagonal lunge can help provide a more comprehensive strengthening of the knee.

Maintain same upright form of basic lunge. Step out at a 45 degree angle for each leg.

Maintain same upright form of basic lunge. Step out at a 45 degree angle for each leg.

Calf Raises – The “calf” is composed of the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris muscles.  These muscles also cross around the back side of the knee, providing some support of the joint.  Start out doing this exercise on flat ground.  To increase difficulty, progress to a slanted/raised surface.

Maintain balance, push up on your toes, hold for 1-2 seconds at top of lift.

Maintain balance, push up on your toes, hold for 1-2 seconds at top of lift.

Balance – One way to train the body to prevent ACL tears is to increase balance.  Start with balancing on the dominant foot, then training the non-dominant foot.  Once you can balance on one foot for at least 30 seconds, you may progress to doing the exercise with your eyes closed.  Training balance will allow you to control yourself more effectively in space.  Remember, most ACL tears are non-contact, so increasing performance in space is important to help prevent injury.

Focus on maintaining balance as long as possible. Repeat on opposite leg

Focus on maintaining balance as long as possible. Repeat on opposite leg

Close your eyes to increase difficulty

Close your eyes to increase difficulty

Box Jumps – Box jumps are a way to train primarily the hamstring muscle group, and calves.  This “quick twitch” exercise will strengthen muscle and increase balance.  Again, training the body to operate in space is essential to reduce the likelihood of an ACL tear.  With this plyometric exercise, ensure proper footing with wearing appropriate footwear and inspecting the condition of both the box and surrounding floor.  Jump on dry, even surfaces.

Place feet shoulder width apart, squat down and swing arms back to create momentum

Place feet shoulder width apart, squat down and swing arms back to create momentum

Push as hard as possible and propel yourself in the air.

Push as hard as possible and propel yourself in the air.

Land on top of box with knees slightly bent to help absorb load.

Land on top of box with knees slightly bent to help absorb load.

These 6 exercises are a quick, and easy way to help prevent ACL tears in athletes.  If you have any questions about this program, don’t hesitate to contact me.  While there is no way to totally prevent this injury, these exercises can be the first step to help defend against a tear.

[email protected]

cropped-Screen-Shot-2014-09-18-at-11.47.54-AM.png