Protect your ACL!
You know you’ve overstretched your ACL after resting your leg in a straight leg position for a period of time on a surface and then tried getting up right away. That ache in your knee is probably coming from your anterior cruciate ligament, your “ACL”. It’s one of the most injured ligaments in sports, typically when weight bearing and rotational forces are combined in high stress or high impact moments.
Your ACL protects your knees from over-extending, and sets a hard limit on how far your knee should be able to straighten before an injury takes place. When your ACL is stressed or develops an injury, other ligaments like your posterior, medial and lateral cruciate ligaments can easily injured if the stress and impact on the knee is continued. Further injuries to the meniscus (the cartilage between your knee joint) can also take place at a higher rate when your ACL is compromised. It’s a chain reaction effect that can become more serious over time if the ACL is not ready to return to play.
Symptoms of ACL injuries are often accompanied by inflammation, stiffness, instability and weakness to the knee, mild versions of ACL injuries may not be as obvious and can thus be under detected especially if over the counter pain medications are masking the symptoms above.
Preventing ACL injuries, also known as pre-habilitation, is an excellent way of reducing the risk of incidence of future knee injuries. This could include addressing the flexibility of all lower extremity muscles especially the hamstrings, and to build strength that has dynamic relevance to the sport, meaning that muscles should be able to exert its strength in the context of movements in the sport.
Proprioception is your body’s positional awareness in space, and is one of the biggest factors affecting movement skill, reaction to joint stress, and injury prevention. This can be enhanced and trained, and in the context of ACL pre-habilitation, could include the following balance components in your exercise session:
Stand on one foot and catch a bouncing ball off a wall.
Dribble a basketball on one foot.
Play catch and toss with another person…on one foot.
Do your weight lifting (e.g. bicep curls, triceps extensions, shoulder presses)…again, on one foot.
There you go! Protect your ACL and enjoy a lifetime of recreation and sports. Stand strong, stand balanced and stand on one foot!
Dr. Adrian Pujayana is an educator, professor at Cal State LA, and a private practice Doctor of Chiropractic of 17 years in South Pasadena.