With local winter codes almost underway, a common injury associated with AFL and netball are knee injuries. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are one of the most common non-contact related injuries with these sports. Injury and surgery associated with the ACL results in 12 – 18 months extensive rehabilitation and time off sport. However, research has identified that a comprehensive and preventative program implemented from a young age can decrease the risk of an ACL injury.
What is the ACL?
The anterior cruciate ligament is a key ligament located within the knee. Its purpose is to limit movement of the thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia). The ACL serves to prevent anterior movement of the tibia on the femur or preventing hyperextension of the knee.
Injuries commonly occur with movements associated with sudden stopping or changing direction.
What puts me at risk of an ACL injury?
Landing and changing direction with a poorly aligned knee position places excessive force on the knee joint and ligaments. This commonly occurs when landing with an inwardly collapsing knee or slowing down with a stiff and straight knee.
This can be associated with a range of factors. These commonly include reduced core strength and lower limb strength around surrounding muscles such as the calf, thigh and gluteal muscles. Other risk factors can include reduced flexibility or previous injury around the knee, ankle or hip.
Poor technique associated with landing and jumping can also increase the likelihood of ACL and knee injuries.
It has also been identified that females are at a higher risk of ACL injuries in most cases compared to men. Whilst ACL injuries are common amongst women in netball, the rise of women’s football has resulted in a much publicised increase in ACL injuries associated with AFLW.
Can I prevent ACL injuries?
Fortunately, a preventative program consisting of simple exercises have been shown to decrease the likelihood of ACL injuries. Poor biomechanics around jumping/landing and changing direction can be corrected by participating in preventative drills as exercises. These include exercises designed to focus on strengthening, changing direction, body mechanics and body awareness exercises.
Performing these exercises for 15 – 20 minutes, two to three times per week have been shown to be effective in reducing the likelihood of injury. Importantly, these exercises can be incorporated into training and games by being utilised as part of warming up.
Your physiotherapist is well placed to assess jumping and landing technique. A thorough and comprehensive assessment, can identify factors (if any) that increase the likelihood of an ACL injury. Specific treatment and exercises can then be implemented to address these factors reducing the likelihood of injury.