Anterior cruciate ligament or ACL injuries are one of the most common type of injuries among athletes. This injury occurs most often in non-contact sports such as gymnastics or skiing. It can also occur in sports that require extensive pivoting and twisting of the knee such as basketball and soccer. While it can be difficult to predict when this type of injury may sideline a player, recent studies have shown that physical therapy may be able to reduce the likelihood of ACL tears.
ACL tears can be partial or complete tears of the ligament. The anterior cruciate ligament connects the bones of the leg above and below the knee, the shin and thigh bones. The following movements can cause this injury to occur:
•Making Sudden Stops
•Trauma To The Knee Itself
•Twisting The Knee
Studies have shown that girls experience ACL tears more often than boys. In fact, girls are 6 times more likely to sustain this type of injury. Some factors that may affect this include:
•Difference In Knee Anatomy
Athletes are at an increased risk of ACL tears in the late high school years. Preventing this type of injury is especially important for those who are seeking college scholarships for sports. It is important to note, however, that anyone can sustain this type of injury. While sports are the most common culprit in ACL problems, many people suffer injury when they twist their knee during everyday life.
Advances in physical therapy have made preventing ACL tears easier than ever before. Neuromuscular training is designed to improve muscle strength that makes injuries less common. In addition, this type of training program can help athletes learn how to jump, land and pivot in a way that makes injuries less likely to occur. Studies involving college athletes revealed that ACL tears decreased by as much as 40 percent among females who underwent a therapy program before ever sustaining an injury.
Once a knee injury has occurred, therapy can help lower pain levels and reduce the likelihood of future injuries. Although severe ACL tears often require surgery, less serious injuries may not. Therapists may use modalities such as heat and ultrasound to reduce pain and inflammation. Once the patient is more comfortable, exercises will be added as tolerated. Therapists focus on increasing core and trunk strength to prevent another injury once therapy is complete.
People who are facing an ACL repair, may participate in therapy treatments before surgery. This type of treatment is typically short-term and focuses on reducing the swelling and pain around the knee. Doctors have found that many people have less pain and shorter recovery times after an ACL repair when they see a therapist before the procedure is performed.
After surgery, doctors typically refer patients to therapy for several weeks. During these sessions, therapists work with patients to increase range-of-motion. Patients are prescribed a series of exercises to perform at home in between therapy visits. Modalities such as ES or electrical stimulation may be used to increase muscle strength as well.
Therapy is a valuable tool that can be used to reduce the frequency of ACL injuries before and after they occur. Therapists work with doctors to help their patients achieve the goals needed to maintain muscle strength that makes injuries far less likely to occur. Teaching proper body mechanics is another way therapists help patients prevent future injury to the knee during sports and moving forward.