Athletic Training column

Injury prevention programs

By Jenn Mroz | Jul 24, 2014
Photo by: File Jenn Mroz

Injuries are a part of sports participation.  Part of an athletic trainer’s job is to try to prevent these injuries if possible.  There are several ways to do this.  In this article, with the fall sports season approaching and knee injuries commonly seen, I’ll discuss a few of these methods for preventing ACL injuries in the knee.
The first line of defense is using proper jumping and landing techniques.  Female athletes seem to be at higher risk of ACL injuries due to several factors, such as hormones and the anatomical makeup of their knees, in addition to jumping and landing technique.  We can’t change the former factors, but we can correct the latter.  Programs called “jump training” have been developed specifically for the female athlete.  
I have used one of these programs with my Tuscola women’s soccer team over the past few years.  The focus is landing with a slight bend in the knee (as opposed to a straight leg) and keeping the knee over the toes (without any side to side wobbling).  These types of programs can help prevent non-contact ACL injuries that may occur during jumping and landing; but unfortunately, they can’t prevent those tears that occur when an athlete plants a foot and rotates at the knee, or when colliding with another player.
While ACL prevention is a big focus in female athletes, it can also benefit younger athletes who may still have trouble with coordinated movements as they grow into their bodies.  A simple test to see if an athlete is at risk of ACL tears due to improper form is the tuck jump.  Andrea Kaufman, a MedWest Haywood athletic trainer, recently tested her football team at Waynesville Middle School, using this screening method.  She had her athletes perform a tuck jump for 10 seconds, observed their form, and recorded any abnormalities.  She explains, “The tuck jump tests their lower extremity strength and endurance.  I was looking to see how they land and if their knees are parallel while in flight.  There are three parts to the test:  pre-season, in-season, and post-season.  The goal is to see an improvement.  It’s a great tool for helping coaches see any weakness, and determine what they need to work on in the weight room and on the field.”
Muscle imbalances can also increase the risk of ACL injuries.  Skeletally, the knee isn’t a very strong joint.  The ligaments provide a moderate amount of stability, but the main factor to the strength of the knee joint is the strength and balance of the muscles surrounding it.  
The quadriceps muscles, located on the front of the thigh, should be twice as strong as the hamstring muscles, which are found on the back of the thigh.  If there is an imbalance between these muscle groups, it may predispose an athlete to an ACL tear.  So, when designing a weight lifting program, make sure to take this into consideration.  If you only do squats, and don’t include leg curls or lunges, you could be causing a muscle imbalance.
If you would like us to provide an ACL prevention program for your team, please let us know.
Next time, I’ll discuss another injury prevention technique we’re implementing at our schools called Functional Movement Screens.  If you’d like to learn more about rotator cuff injury and prevention, you can attend a seminar on Tuesday, July 29 at 6 p.m. by Dr. Ben Debelak, an Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Director of the Sports Medicine program at MedWest Haywood.  The seminar takes place in the MedWest Haywood Health and Fitness Center classrooms.  
Until then, stay healthy.

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