Tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)—one of the four major knee ligaments—are among the most devastating injuries for athletes at any level because of the lengthy and costly rehabilitation. (Learn how ACL injuries occur.)
According to the Texas Sports Medicine Group, team physicians for the Dallas Mavericks, between 250,000 and 300,000 ACL injuries occur in the United States annually, and more than a billion dollars is spent each year on ACL rehabilitation.
Unfortunately, female athletes represent a majority of these numbers. A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that due to anatomical, hormonal and biomechanical differences, women are up to eight times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than men.
With more than 30 years of experience in sports rehab, Bill Bue, president of Topical Gear—a manufacturer of protective equipment for female athletes—has seen his fair share of ACL injuries. He says, "Unfortunately, some women are predisposed to them, causing them to tear both their right and left ACL or the same ACL twice."
ACL rehabilitation is a long, arduous process. Many athletes never fully recover from the injury. So it's important to take precautions to prevent them from happening in the first place.
According to Bue, the most effective preventative measures include:
ACL Injury Prevention Training
Teams that incorporate ACL injury prevention programs into their pre-season training have seen a significant reduction in the number of ACL injuries. The Sportsmetrics program is the first ACL injury prevention program to reduce serious knee ligament injuries in female athletes. The program is designed to build strength and improve coordination and overall physical conditioning.
Using Protective Gear
Topical Gear's ACL Tube is specifically designed for female athletes to help reduce the chance of an ACL tear. Worn above the knee, the lightweight tube applies pressure to muscles that support the knee. The pressure strengthens the muscles so they do a better job of protecting the knee in tear-prone situations.
Strength and Agility Training
Hips and thighs are the knees' primary support system. Strengthening them with Squats, Lunges, and cone drills that require change of direction help stabilize them. (Learn 3 exercises to prevention ACL injuries.)
Knowing Your Body
Most ACL injuries occur when an athlete has been pushed beyond her limits, causing fatigue and incorrect form. Slowly building up your stamina and knowing when to take a break can save you months of pain.
Most athletes know that warming up is essential, but they don't realize that cooling down is equally important. Spending five to 10 minutes slowly bringing down your heart rate will help remove the lactic acid that has built up in your muscles, allowing them to more quickly recover and avoid lingering soreness.
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