The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the ligaments in the knee. Ligaments are the thick bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. In the knee, the ligaments help keep the bones and muscles aligned so that your knees can adequately support you. When the joint is extended beyond its normal range or twisted too far, the ACL can suffer either a partial or complete tear.
Torn ACLs are a common injury for athletes, dancers, or others who are physically active because they usually arise from sudden movements that stress the ligaments: a quick change in direction or a twisting motion. For an athlete, an ACL injury can be devastating, causing impairment of the joint for an extended period or even permanently. Recovering from an ACL injury often takes a long time – usually at least six to nine months. That is a long time to be inactive, and getting back in shape will take additional time. Consequently, while there are effective treatment options, such as undergoing physical therapy or having ACL surgery, an ACL injury is not something you want to experience.
If you have an active lifestyle, consider taking steps to prevent an ACL injury instead of hoping you do not get one. Here are a few recommendations that should help prevent ACL and other knee injuries every athlete should observe.
Always Warm Up and Stretch
Before running, jumping, lifting, dancing, or participating in a sport, you should always warm up first, followed by some gentle stretching. Ask your trainer or your physio for activity-specific warm-up exercises and stretches, and perform them for at least 10 minutes before you start engaging in your sport or activity. That way, your tissues are more supple and less likely to tear. Those warm-ups and stretches can also signal to you when something is ailing: if your warm-up exercises cause pain or discomfort, that is a signal to have something looked at before it gets worse, or at least a sign that you should use a brace or other support during play.
Manage Your Weight
Excess weight is one of the most significant risk factors for ACL injuries. The more weight your joints carry, the more likely they will get damaged on impact. If you’re overweight and you have knee trouble, take heed. With every step you take, you put one-and-a-half times your body weight on your joint, and the stress only increases if you are talking about running or jumping. Consider booking a telemedicine appointment with Tchejeyan Orthopaedics, where you can learn about effective weight loss strategies and, if necessary, get a referral to other professionals like nutritionists or personal trainers who can help you shed those extra pounds.
Don’t Change Your Training Routine Too Quickly
Most sports, like ice hockey, soccer, and basketball, have a season. Athletes often play more frequently during the season than during the other months of the year and may even switch to a different sport. This can present a problem because your body isn’t used to the different muscles being used when you change your exercise routine. Sports injuries like an ACL tear are more likely when you begin a new season after taking a long break. Instead, consider training all year, even if it is at a lower level, and increase your exercise levels gradually before the season begins again. That way, the body can adapt and build protective muscles around the joints.
Athletes often place uneven pressure on the two sides of their bodies. This can increase the risk of injury on the weaker side. A good prevention method is to cross-train and strengthen muscles evenly with targeted exercises. Yoga, Pilates, and strengthening classes specific to your sport could be helpful.
What to Do After a Knee Injury
If you’ve injured your knee, you should see an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible. If you keep training on a damaged ACL, you could make your condition worse, making a full recovery less likely. A knee specialist like Dr. T can diagnose your condition and suggest treatment options to get you back to your active lifestyle sooner. Sometimes, home remedies and rest are enough, but at other times, joint repair may be necessary.
ACL tears can be serious, and they might require surgery. At the very least, your injury will require long periods of rest – something hard to cope with when you are an active person. So do what you can to prevent injuries from happening. Contact TJN Ortho in Thousand Oaks to find out more about ACL treatment or schedule an appointment for a consultation with Dr. T.