The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is a source of much worry for female athletes, as it is extremely vulnerable to career-ending tears. It is one of the four major ligaments in the knee that provide stability by controlling your knee’s range of motion and preventing the lower leg from moving too far forward. A tear typically occurs in sports that involve sudden changes of direction, like football or soccer, where a sudden twisting motion ruptures the ligament.

While most ACL repairs are done to young athletes (under 25), an ACL tear is three times more likely to occur in women than in men. This may be due to differences in hormone levels that relate to ligament strength and stiffness, neuromuscular control, lower limb biomechanics, ligament strength and fatigue. Women have less hip and knee flexion than men, a problem when landing a jump.

The best way to prevent ACL injury is to follow a program of exercise during regular practice that includes a warm up, stretch, strengthening exercises, plyometrics, agility drills and a cool down.

1. Warm Up: Start your team with a light jog between two cones you set up. By warming up their muscles slowly, you accustom their bodies to exercise. While they jog, ensure that they are keeping their hip, knee and ankle in straight alignment, without allowing the knee to cave in or the feet to point sideways.

2. Stretching: No matter what, you need to be properly stretched out before any athletic activity. Be sure to include a calf stretch, quadriceps stretch, hamstring stretch, inner thigh stretch and hip flexor stretch. Take your time doing this, you won’t regret it!

3. Strengthening: By increasing your leg strength, you will create a more stable knee joint. There is some risk of injury with these exercises, so be careful with your technique! Do walking lunges, hamstring pull-ups, and single toe raises.

4. Plyometrics: Plyometric exercises are crucial for building power, strength and speed, but you must land them softly! Do lateral hops over a cone, forward and backward hops over a cone, single leg hops over a cone, scissors jumps, and vertical jumps with headers.

5. Agility Exercises: Improving the power and strength in your muscles will protect their vulnerability. Do a shuttle run with both forward and backward running, diagonal runs, and a bounding run.

6. Cooling Down: This is an essential step, do not skip this. While drinking water, you will do some light strength training and stretching exercises. Start with bridging with alternating hip flexion, and then move to abdominal crunches, single and double knee to chest, supine piriformis stretch and a seated butterfly stretch.

If you are careful and follow these guidelines, you should have no reason to worry about an ACL tear. But if you are careless, tearing your ACL will mean surgery and months of rehabilitation, and in the worst case, giving up your sport. So as we always tell our Chicago physical therapy patients: take care of your body, regardless of age, it deserves only the best.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Rosenthal studied medicine at the University of Wisconsin. With more than ten years of experience in chiropractic medicine, Dr. Rosenthal practices medicine through his Chicago chiropractic clinic.