Strengthening core, leg muscles can reduce risk of ACL tears

First comes the pop, then comes the pain. For those who play or watch sports, the sound and sight of a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a too-common experience.

Such injuries are even more common among female athletes than males, with an occurrence rate that’s eight times as high. That’s why it is crucial heading into fall sports for athletes to take proper prevention steps to reduce their chances of suffering what’s often a season-ending knee injury.

Sports-medicine specialist Dr. Katherine Coyner, an orthopaedic surgeon at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says biomechanics is one of the factors that come into play in understanding why women are more prone to tearing their ACLs, which connect the upper and lower leg bones and help stabilize the knee.

“Women have wider hips and tend to experience valgus collapse – which is landing in a knock-kneed position – when they jump or cut,” Dr. Coyner says.  “Also, women have stronger quadriceps in relation to their hamstrings than men. This leads to an imbalance that makes landing properly with a bent knee more difficult.”

Specializing in a single sport, which can emphasize one set of muscles over another, can increase the chance of ACL injuries.

“The muscles we use playing on the playground or playing all sorts of sports no longer develop as completely, creating muscle imbalances,” Dr. Coyner says. “People become one-muscle dominant at the expense of other muscles, and that can apply too much force on the knee.”

Dr. Coyner and other sports-medicine experts recommend exercise training programs such as 11+, developed by soccer’s international governing body, FIFA. The 20-minute warm-up program is designed for use before practices and games. It concentrates on strengthening core and leg muscles though running, jumping and balance exercises to create a well-rounded athlete.

“Injury-prevention programs require no additional equipment and can be incorporated into game-day strategies,” Dr. Coyner notes. “Using proper techniques can go a long way in reducing ACL tears.”

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