3 Training Tips for High School & College Athletes – decrease your chance of an ACL injury

Sports Medicine Videos | February 18, 2022

What is the ACL and What Does it Do?

Hello, my name’s Greg Lee. I’m a sports medicine surgeon at OrthoGeorgia. This message goes out to the high school and college athletes, student athletes, getting ready for their upcoming school years and athletic seasons. I wanted to talk to you about what you can do in your training to lower the chances of sustaining an ACL injury. Let’s first talk about what the ACL is. If you look at a knee model and you roll the femur, the thigh bone, back away, you see this diagonal white structure coming off the center of the tibia. That’s the ACL. What it does is it links the lower part of the joint to the upper part of the joint. It prevents the lower part of the joint from shifting too far. That’s obviously very important when you want to be an athlete and you want to land from a jump or plant hard to change directions. You need to have your joint stable. You can’t tolerate shifting when the ACL is torn. That’s what happens – your knee shifts, and you can no longer play sports. 

How Can Athletes Lower Their Chances of an ACL Injury?

There’s a lot of research that has been done that has shown several different things that an athlete can incorporate into their training, which will help to lower your chances of getting injured. Let me talk about three key ones. 

Strengthening Your Leg Muscles

The first is the way you strengthen your leg muscles. Typically when we think about an athlete strengthening their legs for competition, there’s a lot of focus on doing squats and doing leg presses and focusing on the quadriceps. Well, what we’ve come to know is that the hamstrings, the muscles in the back of the thigh, are the critical muscles for stabilizing and shielding and protecting the ACL. So for every minute that you spend working out and building strength in your quadriceps, you need to spend an equal minute also strengthening your hamstrings. If we look back at our knee model, the hamstring tendons all come from behind the knee and attach on the inside and the outside of the joint and from the direction that they’re pulling, they prevent the tibia from shifting forward and they prevent that strain on the ACL that can cause it to tear. So point number one is don’t neglect your hamstrings, make sure you’re strengthening your hamstrings just as much as you’re strengthening your quadriceps. 

Warming Up

Point number two – research has shown very clearly that athletes who exercise and stimulate their muscle groups and their legs prior to engaging in competition have lower rates of injury. So it’s very important prior to you stepping on to your basketball court or out to the soccer field or football field, very important that you spend some time – 15 or 20 minutes – doing some pre-competition warm up and exercises. And again, we want to focus on making sure your hamstrings are a focus of that warm up. A really good exercise that’s been proven to lower the rate of ACL tears is something called a Russian curl. That’s something you can Google and you’ll see some pictures, some videos of how to do that. So that would be one of the types of exercises that you might want to communicate with your training staff or your coaching staff about incorporating into your pre-competition and pre-practice warmups. 

Jump Landing Training for Female Athletes

The final point is a little bit more specific to the female athletes out there. Unfortunately, female athletes have a higher rate of tearing their ACLs, and research has shown that a large component of that is related to how female athletes land from jumps as compared to male athletes. And I’m gonna demonstrate for you, male athletes have been found biomechanically when they land from a jump to land with much more flexion in their knees. So when a male athlete lands from a jump, there tends to be a lot more of a flexion down. And that shock absorption takes the stress off the ACL. Studies have shown that female athletes biomechanically have a tendency to land with much straighter legs, much straighter knees. So they land with less flexion and that stiff knee tends to jar through the ACL and predisposes to tearing. So research has shown that if athletes, especially female athletes, can do what’s called jump landing training, where they get on a stepping stool or a box like I am, and they just repetitively practice and focus on getting that deep knee flexion and shock absorption, they can retrain their neuromuscular circuits so that they start engaging in that type of activity on the field and on the court, and that should lower the risk of ACL injury. So I wish you all a successful academic year and a successful year in your athletic activities as well. Be safe out there. Thank you.

About Dr. Lee

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Dr. Gregory Lee is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon fellowship trained in Sports Medicine at OrthoGeorgia. His special interests include sports injuries, arthroscopy of the knee and shoulder, ACL reconstruction (primary and revision), shoulder instability, rotator cuff pathology, and fracture care. He specializes in total and partial knee replacements and also provides care for both trauma and sports-related elbow and ankle injuries. Dr. Lee serves as a team physician for Mercer University and the Academy of Classic Education. 

Comprehensive Sports Medicine Care in Central GA

At OrthoGeorgia, we are proud to have Sports Medicine Board Certified and Fellowship Trained Orthopaedic Surgeons who work with athletes of all kinds. We are committed to the prevention, care, and rehabilitation of all athletic injuries, no matter where they happen. Our physicians will work with you to create a customized sports medicine rehabilitation program that takes your specific needs into account. Patients also have access to spine, hand, total joint, and foot & ankle care at OrthoGeorgia. Let us help you get back to living an active lifestyle and doing what you love – contact us to schedule an appointment in Macon (Building A and our Macon Spine and Orthopaedic Center), Warner Robins, Kathleen, Milledgeville, Dublin, and Hawkinsville today!

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At OrthoGeorgia, we want to help you live a healthier and more comfortable life by giving those in Macon, Warner Robins, Kathleen, Milledgeville, Dublin, Hawkinsville, and the surrounding areas convenient access to the highest quality care. Whether you have been suffering from a sports injury or a common orthopaedic condition, we will determine the cause of your discomfort and craft a personalized treatment plan to bring you relief. To learn more about our services and our physicians, or to schedule an appointment at OrthoGeorgia, please contact us today.

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