Getting sidelined with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is the last thing that any person wants. The injury is a painful one, with a long road to healing and recovery. Although it is a common injury among athletes and other active people, there are certainly things that can be done to prevent it from happening.
Injury prevention strategies and plans will differ by individual body type and activity, but there are several common goals that all programs share: strengthening the body (particularly the core, legs, and hips), developing balance and agility, and improving flexibility. Learning to move with proper alignment and expanding body awareness is crucial to performing safely and efficiently at the top level. Supporting the knees and ankles, learning to land softly when jumping, and correctly positioning the body are all important factors that need to become habitual in active people.
Another crucial element for preventing ACL injuries is committing to warming up and stretching before participating in a physical activity. Blood flow to the muscles needs to be kicked up a notch in order to get them and the joints feeling loose and agile. Achieving a level of flexibility that allows the body to move freely while maintaining the ideal form will produce better results in a safer manner. To protect the ACL, pay attention to stretches that work the calves, thighs, and hips. The following stretches are a sure-fire way to warm up the body, get the blood pumping, minimize the risk of injury, and set you off on the right track toward optimal performance.
Lying on your back with your hands pressed into the ground for support, lift the body using one bent leg while the other is extended fully. Use the hamstrings, quads, and glutes to complete a number of reps or pulses, or hold the bridge for as long as you see fit.
This move is a standing position similar to Warrior Three in yoga. Start by standing, firmly balanced on one leg. Extend the arms forward and the opposite leg backwards, attempting to become parallel to the ground. You can hold here or bend the supporting leg, pulsing or dipping for increased leg and back strength. It is important to remember to keep the knee behind the toes when performing any bending motion.
With feet hip-width apart, bend the knees, pressing your glutes back while maintaining a natural curve in the spine. Again, the knees should be behind the toes - if you can't see your toes, re-adjust your form. Burst into the air, arms extended upward, before landing softly on the balls of the feet. A good way to ensure that you are landing softly is to try to land as quietly as possible.
With feet hip-width or more apart, face the toes forward or slightly outward. Maintain strength in the core and the back, using your legs and glutes to complete the motions. This exercise is great for increasing mobility in the knee joints.