ACL Tear Prevention

By Matthew Nugent, MD

Q. One of my soccer teammates tore her ACL. What is an ACL, and how do I prevent tearing it?
A. I am sorry to hear about your teammate. I hope she heals quickly and is able to play again next year. I am glad you asked the question about the ACL, as healthy knees are important to an active lifestyle. It’s important to understand what causes an ACL injury, and what you can do to prevent or heal it.

ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament. It’s a major ligament that connects the top and bottom leg bones. When your ACL is sprained or torn, the pain will be immediate and intense, and the knee usually swells quickly. Apply ice right away, use crutches, and elevate your leg until you can see a doctor.

Unfortunately, fixing an ACL tear requires surgery, followed by nine to twelve months of recovery before returning to your regular activities. While that sounds difficult, most people are able to get back to their activities that they enjoy after a successful surgery and rehabilitation. While an ACL tear cannot always be prevented, some steps can be taken to minimize your risk.

It is very important to stretch and strengthen the leg muscles surrounding the ACL, especially the front and back thigh muscles, which are the quadriceps and hamstrings. When those muscles are strong, they are more likely to protect the ACL from harm. Conditioning before entering a sport season is critically important. The highest risk sports for ACL tears are soccer, football, skiing, and basketball.

Sports, whether competitive or recreational, are an important part of many of our lives. While no one can completely prevent an injury such as an ACL tear, that shouldn’t prevent you or scare you away from playing sports. Not only do you get exercise, but you learn discipline and teamwork. By focusing on some preseason conditioning, risk of an ACL or other major knee injury can be minimized.

Regardless of your sport, keep moving and stay fit!