ACL Injury Prevention Tips and Exercises

No one wants to get sidelined with an ACL injury. Ankle sprains and injuries to the knee, particularly tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are common in young athletes.

A female youth soccer player poised to strike.

The good news is that there are many ways to prevent injury and save yourself from missing valuable playing time. You can learn how to move in correct alignment to protect your knees and develop body awareness, strength, and balance to support your knees and ankles.

Successful injury prevention programs may differ in specific exercises and drills but they share a common focus: improving flexibility, strength (particularly of the core, hips, and legs), balance, agility, and your ability to jump and land safely.

Avoiding ACL tears

The most important things to keep in mind are to:

  • Jump, land, stop, and move with your knees directly over your feet.
  • Never let your knees collapse inward.
  • Develop strength in your hips and thighs.
  • Warm up and stretch before games and practice.

The best way to develop good form is top perform a variety of drills until the movement patterns are second nature and you don’t have to think about it. While exercising or doing the drills, keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Keep your chest high and over knees.
  • Bend from the hips and knees.
  • Keep your knees over toes.
  • Point toes straight forward.
  • Land like a feather.

Get in shape to play – Don’t play to get in shape

Practice these guidelines, exercises, and drills on your own and with your team. Don’t wait until the season starts.

  1. Always warm up before playing. Get blood circulating to your muscles and joints before you start your game or practice.
  2. Stretch. Being flexible enough to move freely can help you maintain ideal form. Include stretches for your thighs, calves, and hips, and pay particular attention to any areas that are especially tight.

     


    ACL Injury Prevention: Abductors
    Hip abductors


    ACL Injury Prevention: Hip Flexors: 1/2 Keel
    Hip flexors half-kneel


     


    ACL Injury Prevention: Calf stretch

    Calf stretches

  3. Strengthen. Having adequate strength in your hips and thighs is key to providing support for your knees and preventing ACL injuries. Squats and lunges are just a couple of exercises that can build strength. Make sure to use good technique.

    1. Squats

      • Stand with your feet about hip width apart.
      • Sit back. Bend from your hips and knees. Stick your buttocks out with your chest high.
      • Keep your knees behind your toes.
      • Remember, keep your knees and feet facing straight ahead as you squat.
      • Try squatting on just on leg. Careful, don’t let your knee turn inward.


      ACL Injury Prevention: Squats to strengthen quads
      Squat


      ACL Injury Prevention: Single leg squats
      Single


      ACL Injury Prevention: split and walking lunge
      Split


      ACL Injury Prevention: split with rotation
      Split with rotation


      ACL Injury Prevention: RDLs
      RDLs (Romanian deadlift)


      ACL Injury Prevention: Single leg deadlifts
      Single-leg deadlifts


       

    2. Walking Lunges – Perform walking lunges halfway across the field and then back. As you step, keep your front knee over your ankle in line with your toes.

      ACL Injury Prevention: walking lunges

      Walking lunges

    3. Core strength Strengthening the muscles that surround your back, chest, abdomen, and hips can help improve your overall form and make you a more powerful athlete.


     


    ACL Injury Prevention: Core Strength - Side Planks
    Side planks


    ACL Injury Prevention: Core Strength - Hip bridges
    Hip bridges


     


    ACL Injury Prevention: Core Strength - Chops and lifts

    Chops and lifts


    ACL Injury Prevention: Core Strength - Multidirectional Shuffle steps

    Multidirectional shuffle steps

  4. Balance. Many injuries occur when an athlete is off-balance. Like anything, balance gets better with practice. Your gains in stability will pay off on the playing field.

    ACL Injury Prevention: Balance - Single leg ball pass

    Single leg ball pass


    ACL Injury Prevention: Balance - Single leg multiplanar reach with arm and leg

    Single leg multiplanar reach with arm and leg


    ACL Injury Prevention: Balance - juggling

    Juggling


    5. Agility-Changing Direction:


    • Run to a line or cone, plant your outside foot without letting your knee collapse inward to change direction.
    • Move in patterns that take you front to back, side to side and diagonally. Start by running slowly so you can concentrate on good position.
    • Pick up the pace and maintain good technique.
    • Remember: HIPS over KNEES over ANKLES.

  5. Jumping and Landing Safely:

    • Jump straight upward several times. Spring up, then land with your feet and knees pointing straight ahead. No knock knees. Let your knees bend softly each time you land. Practice these jumps facing a teammate and ask him/her to watch your form. Practice proper landing technique until it becomes second nature. Keep your knees bent, your chest high, your buttocks back, and land softly.
    • Have your teammate throw a ball up. Jump up, catch it, and land correctly.
    • Jump over a line (cone, ball, stick) on the field or court and stick your landing.
    • Remember: Don’t let your knee(s) turn in. Follow the jump patterns illustrated:


    ACL Injury Prevention: Jumping and Landing Safely - Side to side, both feet
    Jump side-to-side with both feet over the line.


    ACL Injury Prevention: Jumping and Landing Safely - Side to side, one foot
    Jump from your left to right foot over the line.


    ACL Injury Prevention: Jumping and Landing Safely - Jump Front to back, both feet

    Jump forward-and-back with both feet over the line.


    ACL Injury Prevention: Jumping and Landing Safely - Jump Front to Back, One foot
    Jump forward-and-back over a line leading with your right foot. Keep feet hip width apart. Now lead with your left.


     

  6. Emphasize quality. When practicing any of these strategies, the quality of movement, rather than quantity, should be your goal.
  7. REST. Don’t let a packed schedule of practices, games, and schoolwork leave you so tired that your technique gets sloppy. Rest is essential for gains to occur. Adequate sleep, rest days, and alternating hard workouts with easier workouts are all important strategies in reducing your risk of injury and making you a strong, powerful athlete.

The information provided is for general educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a recommendation of a specific plan or course of action. Exercise is not without risk, and this or any other exercise program may result in injury. As with any exercise program, if at any point during your workout you begin to have pain, feel faint, or experience significant physical discomfort of any kind, you should stop immediately and consult a physician. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Authors


Image - Photo of Theresa Chiaia, PT, DPT

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