I felt it slip apart…
As I ran full speed down the field I prepared to block the defender. He quickly changed directions attempting to get past me. Instead I planted my right foot stopping suddenly and hitting him at the same time. As soon as we collided I knew my knee was not supposed to do whatever it just did. Nothing hurt, but I felt my shin and femur slip way too far away from each other.
Just like a roll of croissants after they are popped my knee went from being strong and stable to lacking any sense of integrity. I walked off the field not sure what had happened. The trainers, however, knew immediately that I tore my ACL.
Unfortunately, this injury is in no way unique or uncommon in today’s high school and college athletes. Researchers estimate that over 100,000 athletes each year tear their ACLs. In fact over the last 20 years the rate of ACL tears per athlete has increased 2% every year.
What an ACL Does
The image below depicts how the ACL connects, its function, and its injury. The Anterior (Front) Cruciate Ligament connects the top front of the Tibia to the back of the Femur. By connecting these bones the ligament keeps the lower half of the leg from being able to move too far forward and away from the femur. This keeps the knee stable. In the image below it is clear how the strength of the knee would collapse if this range of motion was not controlled.
How it Tears
ACL tears occur most often during competition, when the stakes are higher, as opposed to practice. The biggest contributing sports are women’s soccer and football. In all sports the movements that cause the tears include sudden stops, changes in direction, and landing after a jump.
What We Can Do
First and foremost training should shift its focus away from simply building strength to preventing injury. With prevention of injury as the top priority student athletes will be able to play longer and perform better. Building strength without resilience is only compounding the probability of an injury.
For the ACL specifically there are many movements that should be incorporated into your training if you want to avoid injury. These movements include working the full range of motion at the knee and strengthening the direction of the knee in which it is most likely to get hurt.
Add the movements below to your training and your knees will become more resilient to injury and feel less painful during other movements too.