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Football Players: How to Prevent ACL Injuries

September 24, 2011

A torn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is arguably the worst injury a football player could suffer. It usually ends the player’s season and can even put their careers in jeopardy.  Even after surgery, the chances are slim that a player can reach prior levels of performance.

One of the most gifted running backs in the league right now is out with a torn ACL, Jamaal Charles. Chiefs coach Todd Haley said:

“It’s unfortunate, you know, directly for Jamaal because I know Jamaal had high hopes and was excited and worked very hard to be ready to take this to the next level, and now he won’t be able to do that,” Haley said. “I know he’s hurting pretty good inside. That’s first and foremost where my feelings go. But as far as our team, we must step up as a team and move forward.”

ACL injuries dominate football due to the constant beating players take on their knees, from falling to the ground to tackles to collision with helmets. What can you as a player do to try and prevent such an injury?

Avoid vulnerable positions, increase your flexibility, strength and proprioception. I also suggest you including plyometric exercises into your training. Let’s explore each one briefly.

Avoid Vulnerable Positions

Caving in of the knee is one example of a vulnerable position. This occurs when you bend down with the leading leg and lean the knee to the inside. This puts tremendous pressure on the ligament. Instead, the knee should bend straight down, over the foot.

Increase Flexibility

Calf, quadracep, hamstring, inner thigh and hip flexor stretches are the best approaches to improve the flexibility of your leg. The idea is to reduce stiffness, post-exercise soreness and improve range of motion.

Increase Strength

Revisit the Spring Training Program, particularly the lower body exercise. When the muscles surrounding the knee are strong, the ligament is afforded a level of protection from tearing. If your leg muscles are weak, then more pressure is put on the ligament.

Increase Proprioception

Proprioception is just a fancy word for balance. Common in treatment in injured athletes, proprioception exercises can be used for prevention, too. The one-leg squat and reach is a great exercise to improve balance.

Include Plyometric Exercises

Plyometric exercises are designed to produce explosive power. They usually involve jumping, so the landing is critical: it must be soft. Great polymetric exercises that are designed to prevent ACL injuries are lateral hops over a cone, forward/backward hops over a cone, single leg hops over a cone, vertical jumps with headers and scissors jump.

Dr. Rick Lehman is a distinguished orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri and an articular cartilage reconstruction pioneer He owns U. S. Sports Medicine in Kirkwood, MO, and LehmanHealth. Learn more about Dr. Rick.


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