WHAT IS AN ACL TEAR?
ACL stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament, which is one of the four major ligaments in the knee. Knowing this, an ACL tear is simply when this particular ligament has been torn.
ACL tears are actually the most common injuries suffered in sports like football, soccer, and basketball. Surprisingly though, 80% of the time ACL tears are not caused by contact with another player! This is because ACL tears typically occur when a player is landing after jumping or pivoting quickly. This quick, sudden twisting motion is what causes the ACL to tear and the knee to give out. Picture a football player who quickly jukes to the left, resulting in his planted foot and knee going in different directions—this abrupt move could possibly cause an ACL tear.
One startling statistic to note is that women are actually 3 times more likely to get an ACL injury than men. This statistic is even higher when it comes to soccer, where women are 8 times more likely to suffer from ACL tears.
RECOGNIZING A TORN ACL
If a player suddenly feels his or her knee give out after a sudden movement, or after landing from a jump, it's possible that the ACL has been torn. A loud POP from the knee, which is actually the sound of the ligament tearing, combined with swelling are also symptomatic of an ACL tear.
Immediately following the injury, tests can determine whether a tear has occurred. The most commonly used test is the "Lachman Test". To perform the Lachman Test, the examiner bends the knee slightly, at roughly 20 degrees, then stabilizes the thigh while pulling the shin forward. Paying attention to the amount of movement coming from the shin bone shifting, and also seeing the how much the leg can be moved overall, helps determine if the injured player has a torn ACL.
An ACL tear can be treated by surgical reconstruction, but there are risks if one chooses to go this route. These risks include infection, persistent instability, pain, stiffness, and difficulty returning to previous level of activity. On a positive note though, more than 90% of those who undergo ACL surgery have no complications.
- REHAB IS KEY!!! Many people often neglect their post-surgical rehab and pay the price! It must be understood that in most cases, rehab is the most painful process of the entire injury and that people shouldn't allow themselves to simply "take it easy", as opposed to focusing on what needs to be done for the ACL to heal.
The best way to deal with these types of injuries... avoid tearing the ACL! So how can one avoid ACL injuries? Well, there are three areas that should be focused on: speed, balance, and agility. Focusing on these three areas can help improve neuro-muscular conditioning (in a nutshell your nerves learn to communicate with your muscles efficiently) and muscular reaction time. Remember that players are at a higher risk of getting a torn ACL with STOP and START motions, where a change of direction is happening very quickly and balance is key. Incorporating plyometric exercises, such as jumping and balance drills, can help prevent ACL tears by getting the body get accustomed to fast, jerking movements.