Inside ACL Injuries
ACL injuries are an ever-present threat to the health of professional athletes who participate in high demand sports like football, basketball, and soccer. The latest victim being the Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, who suffered a torn ACL during practice this weekend.
However, this type of injury does not only target pro athletes, anyone can suffer an ACL injury regardless of age or gender, from kids playing sports at school to weekend warriors who want to have a little fun outdoors, and yes even us couch potatoes can sustain an ACL injury.
What is an ACL Injury?
The knee joint is comprised of three bones, the femur (thighbone), the tibia (shinbone) and the patella (kneecap). These three bones connect to each other via ligaments that hold the bones together and provide stability to the knee.
There are two kinds of primary ligaments in the knee:
Collateral Ligaments: Found on either side of the knee, these ligaments are responsible for controlling the sideways movement of the knee.
Cruciate Ligaments: These are inside the knee, there are two of them the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) which is in front and the posterior cruciate ligament located in the back. These ligaments cross each other to form an X and are responsible for controlling the back and forth motion of the knee. The ACL prevents the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur and provides rotational stability to the joint.
An ACL injury occurs when there is a tear in the ligament, more than half of ACL injuries cause damage to other structures in the knee such as cartilage, meniscus, and other ligaments.
Injured ligaments are considered sprains, but, depending on the severity they can be:
Grade 1 Sprains: Ligaments are slightly stretched but are still able to keep the knee stable.
Grade 2 Sprains: In this type of sprain the ligament has stretched to the point where it becomes loose, this is considered a partial tear of the ACL. This type of injury is rare.
Grade 3 Sprains: Known as a complete tear of the ligament. In these cases, the ligament is so severely stretched it splits into two pieces, causing the knee to become unstable.
Causes and Symptoms of ACL Injuries
The most common causes of an ACL injury include:
Being hit hard on the side of the knee, as is the case in a football tackle.
Overextension of the knee joint.
Changing direction rapidly.
Slowing down while running.
Landing from a jump incorrectly.
Pivoting with your foot firmly planted.
Symptoms of an ACL injury include:
Feeling or even hearing a pop in the knee at the time the injury occurs.
Pain on the outside and back of the knee.
Swelling within the first few hours of the injury, sudden swelling is usually a sign of a serious knee injury.
Loss of full range of motion.
Instability of the knee joint, feeling as if your knee is “giving way” or buckling with weight bearing.
Preventing ACL Injuries
Proper training and exercise is the best way to prevent ACL injuries, the ER Trained Physicians at Altus Emergency Centers recommend:
Doing exercises to strengthen your leg muscles, particularly the hamstring to ensure overall balance in leg muscle strength.
Exercises to strengthen your core which includes your hips, pelvis, and lower abdomen.
Use proper techniques and knee position when jumping and landing.
Improve pivoting techniques.
Wear footwear and padding that is appropriate for the type of activity you are engaging in.