Serious knee injuries are very common in sport due to the sudden stops, changes in direction and landing. These movements put a lot of pressure on the knee joint and in turn can cause knee pain or injury. The knee is a complex joint and prone to several different injuries, with a common and well known one being damage to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).
Knee injuries are even more common in women than men. Research shows that female athletes are 2-8 more times likely to experience an ACL tear than males1 This is because anatomically, men and women are physically different, with the female pelvis being wider, which changes the mechanics and function of the thigh bone, tibia and femur. This puts more stress on the soft tissues supporting the joints and therefore the knee is more susceptible to injury.
Causes of ACL Injuries
Most damage to the ACL is not caused by contact but is rather due to the way the knee is loaded with manoeuvres in sports, such as those mentioned above. Change of speed or direction, jumping and landing can cause uncontrolled and ‘excessive knee valgus’, whereby the knee collapses and rotates inwards.
Good neuromuscular strength and control is needed to prevent this excessive movement. Therefore, a successful injury prevention program will focus on improving and optimising a person’s movement patterns, training loads and muscle function. Other factors to consider modifying include their footwear, the playing surface and the overall health of the athlete.
How to Prevent ACL Injuries
Due to the high rate of ACL injuries, a lot of good quality research has been undertaken on how to prepare athletes to maximise their sporting performance, while minimising the risk of injury. Sport Physiotherapists are key to this research and Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy worked in conjunction with the AFL and LaTrobe University on a resource specifically for females playing Australian Rules Football. Preparing athletes well can reduce their injury risk by up to 50% and also enhances their performance on the field.
The common elements of such programs include 5 main components:
1. Individual Preparation
This component includes exploring the person’s mental and nutritional preparation, mobility exercises, appropriate warm up, sufficient recovery and any individualised activities prescribed by the medical team to address any key areas or deficits.
Pre-season screening, including a clinical assessment and history taking, along with frequent monitoring of players ensures that any unique requirements can be addressed.
2. Movement Skills
This refers to the regular quality training and a breakdown of the skills required. Jumping and landing, change of direction and deceleration should be practised and coached, and incorporated into every training session. This is often included in a warmup.
Movement control is a skill and habit that can be taught and once the basics are established should be taught under various conditions such as with contact, catching a ball and under fatigue.
3. Drills Specific to the Sport
Practicing the specific skills required for a particular sport is essential. For instance, learning safe tackling technique, how to fall safely or pick up a ground ball in footy. Each sport has its own unique skill set and coaches will deliver high quality practice to work on these.
4. Strength & Conditioning
Exercises to focus on strength, power and endurance are critical to target all the key muscle groups to provide the capacity to sustain the demands of the specific skills of the sport. Specifically, exercises must focus on trunk control, strong quads, hamstrings and hips, and plyometrics.
Optimal conditioning helps prevent fatigue and overload, and therefore decrease the risk of injuries.
These exercises should take into account past and current injuries, any imbalances or deficiencies and sporting experience. Working with an accredited coach or sports physiotherapist will best optimise your specific training program.
Knowledge is power, so teaching athletes how best to look after their own physical and mental health, as well as when to seek professional help, is essential.
Learning how to eat and move well, train smart and recover has a huge impact on injury risk minimisation. Understanding the healthy menstrual cycle is also important for female athletes, to work training around the various phases of the cycle.
If you are suffering from a knee or ACL injury, at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy you can find all the assistance you need. Their services include ACL injury physiotherapy, knee physiotherapy, deep tissue massage, soft tissue therapy and much more.
To optimise your performance and reduce your injury risk, book a screening with Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy today. They will tailor your training schedule for you and have you playing at your best in no time.