In recent years, the occurrence of knee injuries in the athletic population has skyrocketed, especially injuries to the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). According to a recent study, over 250,000 ACL injuries occur annually in the United States alone. Management of ACL-related issues costs the health-care system over two billion dollars per year. The high incidence rate and pricey cost of managing such injuries has led researchers to investigate how to prevent ACL injuries. Fortunately, the research is promising!
Who is susceptible ACL injuries
Many factors can predispose someone to an ACL injury, but the most common factors are gender, age, body structure, and in what sport one participates. Researchers have found overwhelming evidence to support the idea that young female athletes (14-18 years old) who participate in high-level sports like basketball, volley- ball, lacrosse, and soccer are more likely to sustain an ACL injury than the general population or their male counterparts. You may think that in order to rupture the ACL, a traumatic event must take place on the field or court such as a hard tackle or kick to the knee. In reality, most ACL ruptures are the result of non-contact events during the game such as jumping, cutting, or landing. It’s interesting (and somewhat scary to think) that landing the wrong way or cutting too sharply on the field can result in major surgery, 6-9 months of physical therapy, and other possible knee problems in years to come. Therefore, the first step in managing ACL injuries is preventing them from happening in the first place.
Numerous studies have been published in recent years assessing the effectiveness of warm-up activities ranging from stretching to plyometrics and sport-specific drills in the prevention of ACL injuries in susceptible populations. Traditional approaches for preventing on-field injuries included pregame stretching combined with coach recommended warm-ups. Researchers now know that sport-specific agility and plyom- etric stretching drills performed prior to competition leads to lower rates of ACL as well as other lower extremity injury.
One specific program that has been shown to be effective in reducing ACL injuries in all young athletes (male and female alike) as well as reducing the risk of other lower extremity injuries is the Prevent Injury Enhance Performance (PEP) program. PEP is designed to help maximize athletic performance and prevent injury in a non-traditional manner. The program is a very structured pregame routine that includes five distinct components of fitness ranging from stretching to agility drills to plyometric strengthening activities. The program takes 15—20 minutes to complete and it should be performed at least three times per week through- out the season. From a coach’s perspective PEP is a reliable and effective alternative to traditional warm-up activities on the field or the court. Since the program is performed on the field prior to competition and only cones are needed to complete the drills, the PEP program is affordable in virtually every school setting. The coaches and staff would need to be educated on PEP and how to implement it.
Our goal as physical therapists is not just to rehabilitate old injuries, but also to prevent new ones from happening. The professionals at BREAKTHRU Fitness & Physical Therapy strive to work with coaches, trainers, and school athletic departments to promote the health and wellness of our young athletes. Call or stop by for your free consult today.