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Top 3 Reasons Soccer Players Are at Risk for ACL Injuries

Soccer Player holding knee in pain

To kick off the start of the Major League Soccer (MLS) season, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) will be posting its first-ever soccer blog series with Dr. Riley Williams and other HSS experts beginning today.

The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is one of the most common injuries seen among soccer players to-date. This injury is mainly associated with soccer because:

  • Typical movements in soccer can cause stress on an ACL—High-velocity, change in direction, pivots and rotation of lower extremities can affect the function and stability of an ACL. For example, when a player passes the ball from one side of the field to the other using a “right-to-left” motion they rotate with the left foot fixed to the ground around the left knee but are kicking the ball across their body. That rotation happens at a velocity and force that is well beyond that of normal activity, which can lead to an ACL injury.
  • Contact vs. non-contact with another player—ACL injuries can occur when contact is made with another player—such as a tackle from the side causing a valgus force to the knee or “knock knee”. Similarly, non-contact soccer injuries to the ACL are commonly caused by the repetitive and quick movements mentioned above or landing awkwardly.
  • Anatomy of a player—The anatomy of an athlete, especially female soccer players, can contribute to the potential risk of an ACL injury for the following reasons:
    • Female soccer athletes differ from male athletes because of the alignment of their hips and knees. This difference is associated with knee valgus alignment, which increases the likelihood of ACL injury especially when movements are completed in high velocity.
    • The femoral notch, where the ACL lives, tends be more narrow in females than in males. So if the knee or femur twists around the tibia the ACL is impinged upon by bone causing injury.
    • Developing studies also have indicated that hormonal changes in women can impact the likelihood of sustaining an ACL injury.

To really maximize on athletic ability and prevent soccer-related injuries, like ACL tears, it is important for players to have a full understanding of the nature of the game and how it requires high-velocity and rotational body movements. One way to avoid initial or reoccurring ACL injury is for players to maintain fitness and training schedules throughout the season. Focusing on strength and conditioning of a player’s core, hip and thigh muscles in relation to common soccer movements will help players avoid initial injury as well as re-injury to an ACL.

Likewise, to improve upon the care provided to patients with ACL injuries, sports medicine surgeons at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) participate in an ACL registry that enables them to conduct prospective analysis of post ACL injury outcomes as well as utilize the expertise of a large sports service that works collaboratively to conduct a high volume of ACL surgeries and is instrumental in effectively determining a safe return to play for athletes. Together, advanced treatments coupled with continued physical fitness will help players gain the necessary strength and ability to prevent injury and appropriately recovery if injury has occurred.

Dr. Riley J. Williams III, HSS Orthopedic Surgeon

Dr. Riley J. Williams III is the Medical Director & Head Team Physician for the Brooklyn Nets & New York Red Bulls. He is also the Team Physician for USA Basketball and works as the Team Physician for the Iona College Department of Athletics.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.