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Sports Medicine Specialists Offer Tips to Help Prevent ACL Injury in Young Athletes

New York—April 1, 2010

With more young people participating in organized sports than ever before, it’s not surprising that the number of pediatric sports injuries is rising. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries of the knee are particularly common among athletes ages 15 to 18, with a higher incidence among young female athletes.

The ACL is part of a network of tendons and ligaments that help stabilize and support the knee. Injury to the ACL can result from contact or a noncontact mechanism.  Seventy to 80 percent of ACL injuries are a result of landing from a jump, pivoting and/or decelerating.  Exercises to help strengthen muscles and improve faulty movement patterns are critical in preventing ACL injuries, according to Theresa Chiaia, P.T., DPT, section manager, Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center, Rehabilitation Department, at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Chiaia recently presented on ACL injury prevention at Hospital for Special Surgery’s 12th Annual Sports Medicine for the Young Athlete Symposium.

“Proper ACL injury prevention programs are an important part of any young athlete’s training regimen,” says Chiaia. “It’s important that coaches and trainers are educated about the mechanics of the knee so they understand who’s at risk for ACL injuries.”

“There’s a higher incidence of ACL injuries in athletes who play sports that require jumping or a quick change of direction like soccer, basketball and volleyball,” says Polly de Mille, R.N., RCEP, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Women’s Sports Medicine Center.

Chiaia and de Mille offer the following tips for coaches and trainers to help prevent ACL injuries in young athletes:

• Understand the anatomy of the knee, what the ACL is, and how the body works. This will help in heightening awareness of what causes ACL injuries and who is at risk for them.

• Teach your athletes how to move with good alignment so that the knees are protected. This can be achieved by developing body awareness (brain-body connection), strength and balance to support both knees and ankles.

• Make sure athletes are jumping, landing, stopping and moving with their knees directly over their feet. Do not let the knees collapse inward.

• Work with athletes to develop strength in the hips, thighs and core. These are important in helping to keep knees in the proper position when practicing or in competition.

• Ensure a proper warm-up to get blood circulating to your muscles before games and practice. A proper cool down is also important to assist in recovery.

• Have athletes perform a variety of drills until movement patterns and proper body positioning are second nature.

• Give your athletes a chance to rest. Training at a high intensity in a single sport 52 weeks a year is not ideal for any athlete, especially young athletes. Alternate sports and vary intensity from season to season. When possible, take a break between seasons.

Proper movement patterns are so important in ACL injury prevention. “Customized strength and movement pattern exercise programs are key to helping athletes stay healthy,” says Lisa Callahan, M.D., medical director, Women’s Sports Medicine Program, at Hospital for Special Surgery. “Each athlete will have a different base of strength to build from, so it’s important that coaches and trainers develop the best program for that individual to help ensure proper body mechanics.”

For more information about ACL injuries and prevention exercises, visit www.hss.edu/ACLtips.



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