Preventing ACL Injuries in Young Athletes

May 20, 2019

ProActive Physical Therapy

by ProActive Physical Therapy

The days are getting longer, school will soon be out, and another long hot American summer is around the corner. Pretty soon, for teenagers across the land, carefree weeks and memorable months will be filled with trips to the lake, with hot dogs, and fairs, and the rockets’ red glare, and…an ACL tear?

There are approximately 100,000-200,000 sport related ACL injuries reported each year in the United States. Soccer is the fastest growing sport and a summer favorite. It is the top offender for girl athletes and accounts for 53.2% of ACL injuries among high school females. Football is the top offender among high school male athletes. This leads with an incredible 72% of ACL injuries among boys that are attributed to the sport.

70% of these injuries are non-impact related and are caused by cutting, pivoting, and single leg landings. Females are 4-6 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than males due to strength, anatomy, genetic characteristics, and jumping/ landing patterns. Once an ACL tear has occurred, it becomes 16 times more likely to tear his/her ACL in the other knee. Therefore, it is imperative to take preventative steps to avoid ACL injuries all together. Telling your future Carli Lloyd or Tom Brady to kick off the cleats, head to the backyard buffet line, and avoid ACL horror this summer by laying out at the pool is unlikely to breed future athletic accomplishments. So, what can Alex Morgan II and Aaron Rodgers Jr. do to minimize their chances of becoming a part of these fairly hefty stats?

Build Strength

Achieving and maintaining a strong foundation for the larger muscles that you utilize in your sport and/ or activity is crucial to the prevention of ACL injuries for athletes. Core stability is a primary component of functional movement and essential in athletic activities. The core is made up of several muscles that we can divide into two different groups: stabilization muscles – which help us maintain proper posture and support our body – and mobilization muscles, which help us move our body.


Exercises to help emphasize strengthening of both core stabilization and mobilization muscles include: bridge, plank, superman, and the use of core strengthening equipment. There is little in the literature to suggest that more sleeping in and a more receptive approach to the consumption of Tide Pods represents, on balance, a stronger strategy.


So, what else? Stretching and improving flexibility bilaterally is also a key factor in ACL prevention. Having an imbalance of <15% between L/R flexibility can increase risk for knee injury because it can cause the body’s center of gravity to shift while landing from a jump. Because of this, it is important to establish a good stretching routine before and after activity, and to pay attention to any imbalances while stretching.

Proper Technique

Emphasizing proper technique and muscle activation during exercises and activities can also help in assisting ACL injury prevention. Having weak Hamstring muscles can lead to the inability to control the knee if the knee were to give out during a movement. Exercises that emphasize Hamstring strengthening include: Hamstring curls, bench hip thrust, kettlebell dead lift, and SL bridge. In addition, when performing landing drills, ensure that your young athlete is getting down low enough to activate the Hamstrings to aid in strengthening. But not so low as to quit the team and slouch through a couch-bound Call of Duty summer.

Diet and Hydration

Monitoring water intake and eating a well-balanced diet has a direct impact on activity performance and less injuries. If an athlete does not eat enough and is calorically deficient or dehydrated, it can increase levels of fatigue which in turn leads to decreased concentration of form/technique and increases risk of injury. Ensure that your young athlete is drinking enough water – energy drinks, though liquids, categorically do not count – and eating a well-balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, low-fat proteins and whole grains.

ACL injuries are hazards of youth sports this summer like stirring Lee Greenwood renditions and charred Hebrew Nationals are risks associated with the season’s holidays. Take steps to avoid these unwanted perils and it promises to be a happy, healthy summer for all!a

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