You hear and read about them all the time in professional sports. If you’re lucky, or unlucky enough to watch a game when it happens, your stomach usually gets a little queasy. Sometimes they happen and nobody even touches the athlete, he or she just goes down in a heap wincing in pain. Have you guessed what I’m talking about? If you said, “ACL injuries for $1,000, Matt,” then you are correct!
“But I’m not an athlete now,” or “I sit at my desk all day, there is no way I can have a torn ACL.” Your statements may have some merit, but not totally. ACL injuries are the most common type of non-contact knee injury in the United States. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine Corrective Exercise Specialist textbook: ACL injuries can affect both males and females of all ages and it is estimated that there are over 200,000 ACL injuries annually in the United States (Donnell-Fink et al., 2015). There are not 200,000 pro football, basketball, and soccer players in the U.S., so the numbers have to come from other sources.
Many ACL injuries occur from indirect contact, such as changing direction and cutting, due to altered lower-extremity neuromusculoskeletal control imbalances resulting from anterior forces, lateral forces, rotational forces or a combination of all three forces on the knee (Gagnier, Morgenstern, & Chess, 2013; Paterno et al., 2010; Weiss & Whatman, 2015). What does all this technical jargon mean for you, the person over 35 who maybe is just a casual gym member or enjoys being active? It means you are still susceptible to an ACL injury through overuse of muscles doing the same activity, and/or underuse from poor posture and sitting.
The good news, with a few adjustments to your workout routine, ACL injuries can be reduced by 51 to 62% (Gagnier et al., 2013). Even if you don’t workout and just enjoy activities like tennis, hiking, golf, or gardening, implementing the following types of exercises can pay big dividends in keeping your knees safe.
Three exercises to lower your chances of an ACL injury:
- Side lunges – step out to one side laterally with both feet pointing forward. Keeping your knee also pointing forward, lower yourself to where your thigh is parallel to the floor and your opposite leg is straight, butt out like you’re sitting down. Then extend your knee standing back up and return to the starting position. Repeat all one side or alternate, using just your body weight first and progressing to added resistance as you get confident and stronger. Do 12-15 reps per leg as a beginning point.
- Side shuffles – get into athletic position and shuffle without crossing your feet. Take it slow at first making sure you stay low with your knees pointed forward and not internally rotating as you take a step. What’s athletic position? Look at a linebacker before the snap. Lead with the right foot then stop and come back leading with the left foot.
- Side-step up to balance – stand next to a step/box/elevated platform of about 24’ high. Step up laterally and hold that balance position on one foot for a 1-2 count, then step down under control. Repeat 15 times and switch feet. Add resistance when balancing becomes easier.
These exercises will strengthen the connective tissues on the outside of your knees in addition to the muscles in your glutes. Stretch your groin muscles to help with proper muscle function and stability in these movements. ACL injuries occur from weakness due to tightness on the inner thigh and weakness on the outer thigh. Watch your confidence moving in all directions improve without over reliance on just your dominant side. Typically, the subordinate side is the one injured from lack of use just from a simple step.
To learn more about preventing injuries, increasing mobility, reducing joint pain, and getting more out of life, please go to my website, mattpeale.com. I offer group and personal instruction via Zoom weekly sessions to help your tennis, golf, workouts, and lifestyle hobbies. Download my free report, 3 Tips to Reduce Back Pain Your Doctor Doesn’t Know. Guaranteed to open your eyes and give you a new direction on staying healthy and active you didn’t know possible!