A damaged ACL is one of the most common injuries in sports, especially in football. Understanding the anatomy and purpose of the ACL helps to explain why this is and what can be done to prevent an ACL injury.
The ACL is one of the strong bands of tissue that help connect your thigh bone (femur) to your shinbone (tibia). A lack of muscle strength above and below the knee joint often leads to a stretched or torn ACL, as these are the muscles that support the knee when twisting or stabilizing a sudden change in direction. Therefore, it is crucial to build up muscle strength in order to prevent an ACL injury.
Here are a few ACL strengthening exercises to prevent injuries this football season:
- Single-Leg Balance: This exercise is a great warmup for your leg muscles and it strengthens knee stability. Stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent and attempt to maintain your balance for 15 to 30 seconds. Keep your hip, knee, and foot aligned with hip over knee over foot. Do 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions on each foot.
- Wall Squats: These strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings and improve balance. Lean up against a wall with your back against it and your feet 12-24 inches away from the wall. Bend your knees and slide down the wall until your knees are directly over your ankles. If your knees are positioned over your toes, you have squatted too far. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds and push back up to standing. Do 1 set of 5-10 repetitions
- Walking Lunges: These exercises strengthen the quadriceps. Stand with your feet together and step forward with one leg, bending your knee to 90 degrees after your foot hits the ground. Make sure the front knee remains over the ankle and does not go past the foot. Continue moving your body forward by bringing your back (stationary) leg forward, then together with your step leg. Alternate legs with each step. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
- Single-Leg Bridge: These strengthen your hamstrings, hip flexors, and gluteal muscles. Lay on your back with one knee bent slightly and one leg straight. Using the bent leg as your support leg, elevate your trunk and hips, bringing your shoulders, hips, and leg in a straight line. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds.
- Plyometric Exercises: These exercises involve a jumping movement. A jump squat is a type of plyometric exercise that will strengthen the ACL and is designed to improve athletic performance, speed, and power. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Lower your body to a squatting position. Push up through your feet and jump up explosively while engaging your abdominal muscles. Lift your arms overhead as you jump. As you land, move back down to the squatting position. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Football is a high-impact sport that demands much of the body, and a stable knee is required to withstand the tremendous force the sport inflicts. These few exercises, if performed regularly and correctly, can strengthen the leg muscles, enhance knee stability, and decrease the chances of an ACL injury.
Dr. Kai Mithoefer is board certified in both Orthopedic surgery and Orthopedic sports medicine, fellowship trained in Orthopedic Trauma at Harvard and the prestigious Sports Medicine and Shoulder Surgery fellowship at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Dr. Mithoefer is an internationally recognized specialist for joint preservation, has published more than 100 scientific articles and book chapters and is a frequent speaker at national and international orthopedic meetings.