ACL tears have become one of the most common injuries for athletes and weekend warriors alike. According to renowned orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, although some ACL tears are the result of an acute traumatic event, more and more ACL tears are the result of repetitive stresses and “weak links” in our body. These “weak links” stem from muscle weakness or imbalances, poor biomechanics, compromised proprioception (the body’s internal balance and coordination mechanisms), and even gender (female athletes are 4-5 times more likely to tear ACLs than males).
Surgical procedures followed by months of physical therapy allow most people to resume normal activities including sports, but it can be a long and arduous process. I know all too well as I tore my left ACL in the summer of 2009 and then the right almost a year to the day later. While fully healed and back to my favorite activities, I realize now that I need to consciously work to maintain my knees.
Preventing and recovering from ACL injuries requires strengthening of the muscles surrounding the joint: quadriceps, calves and especially the hamstrings. As important, yet often overlooked once physical therapy is complete, is restoring your balance and coordination skills or “proprioception.” Proprioception helps you avoid falls, adjust for balance on uneven or unstable surfaces and safely land when jumping. When you are injured or stop playing a sport you can quickly lose your subtle coordination skills that most of us take for granted. Not only do you need to retrain these skills post injury, you need to do more to maintain them while healthy to avoid injury.
The following simple exercises will help strengthen the muscles that operate and support the knees for improved balance, stability and agility.
If you think you may have an injury or are recovering from an injury, clear it with your physician and/or physical therapist before incorporating these balance exercises into your routine.
- Stand up straight with arms out
- Raise one foot up and bend knee to rest the sole of the foot on inside of the opposite knee.
- Hold for 10-20 seconds on each side. Do 1-3 sets.
- Try closing your eyes for an added challenge
BOSU or Disk Balance:
Using a BOSU Balance ball (either flat side up or rounded soft side up) or a wobble cushion disk, stand on one leg trying to keep your body as steady and still as possible. Hold for 15-30 seconds on each leg. Do 1-3 sets.
Single Leg Hops:
Standing tall with abs engaged, hop up and down on one foot 15-20 times. Switch feet and repeat.
For more information on preventing and recovering from knee injuries, see Dr Nicholas DiNubile, MD’s Framework series.
Authored By: Jana Sanford, CoreFitnessByJana
Jana is a certified Personal Trainer and Pilates Instructor with specializations in orthopedic exercise for injury prevention and recovery, in-home fitness and sport conditioning. As a former corporate executive and business traveler, Jana focuses on providing cost and time effective fitness solutions for corporate and individual wellness.