Simple Ways to Prevent Knee Injuries in the New Year

January 10, 2014

Topic: Injury Prevention

Staying healthy and injury-free is one of the most common New Year's resolutions, but it can be easier said than done. Learn tips on how you can help reduce your risk of ACL injuries.

Staying healthy is at the top of many active people’s New Year’s resolution list, but it can be easier said than done. While various medical and technological advancements, as well as increased awareness, have made this goal more attainable, risk of injury still presents itself at every turn. Athletes know all too well that, despite being in the best shape possible, a sudden traumatic injury, such as a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), can occur at any time.

What if you could reduce the risk of ACL injuries and other knee damage with a few simple yet effective changes to your athletic lifestyle?

An unhealthy trend

Tears to the ACL , which connects the knee to the thigh and shin bones, are one of the most serious common sports injuries. Once considered an "adult injury," ACL injuries are steadily increasing among kids and teens, according to a 2013 report from The Chicago Tribune. But it’s not only youth athletes - more knee ligament tears also are occurring in women and young adult athletes.

"Women have wider hips than men making them more naturally "knock-kneed" (the scientific term for the condition is valgus knee angle), tend to have "quadriceps dominance" in which the quadriceps muscles on the front of the leg are stronger than the hamstrings on the back of the leg, and have trunks that are less flexible, causing them to land much more upright," said Charles A. Roth, M.D., orthopaedic surgeon, Andrews Institute. "Women also have less knee, hip and trunk flexion than males during walking, landing and cutting maneuvers. All of these factors mean that more stress is put on a woman’s ACL than a man’s ACL."

When it comes to knee injury prevention, there is hope. Many forms of knee damage can be avoided with the correct conditioning, exercises and overall awareness. If you’re planning an exercise regimen this year and looking for fresh alternatives, consider these following guidelines.

For kids and teens

It’s fun for kids and teens to play on competitive, organized sports teams, but those activities may also be hurting them in the long run. Sports medicine specialist Mininder Kocher told The Chicago Tribune that a lack of "free play" has prevented kids from building strength in their knees, as well as their ankles and cores.

Kids and teens need a healthy dose of free play in addition to their sports practices and games. Free play can be anything from jump rope and hopscotch to climbing a tree or a jungle gym. Even a simple game of tag can help children build the muscles they need to prevent injury. Parents should incorporate these activities into their children’s busy schedules two to three times a week.

For those who live in a colder climate, they don’t have to wait until temperatures warm up. Parents should have their children jump rope in a safe area of their home or do a five- to 10-minute stretch each night while watching their favorite television programs.

For adults

Kids may have the play, but that doesn’t mean adults are left with all the work. However, it may take a little more planning and vigilance. The Osteoarthritis Action Alliance recommends sticking to a prevention plan that can be done two to three times a week and takes only 15 minutes to complete. After stretching and warming up, one should focus on single-leg balances, strength-building moves such as planks and deadlifts, then plyometrics such as double-leg jumps.

Furthermore, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) states that cross-training cardio workouts can be beneficial in preventing knee injuries. The organization suggests using workout devices such as the stairclimber or enrolling in a spinning class once a week. However, treadmills should be avoided, because it can be hard on the knees.

Whether one is a competitive athlete, a casual skier, beach volleyball player or someone in between, it may also help to get a head start on the season. The ACE suggests beginning endurance training at least four weeks before the sports season begins.

For girls and women

Research has shown that girls and women are four times more likely than men to sustain an ACL injury, The Los Angeles Times reported. Sports medicine specialist Timothy Hewett told the news source that it’s because of bad habits and strength imbalance, two things that can be easily fixed.

Hewett suggests that girls and women work on their "weak spots," which are typically the hamstrings or the back of the thighs. When girls and women have weak hamstrings, they tend to overcompensate with their quad muscles, especially when they jump, pivot or make other sudden movements, putting more strain on the ACL.

To strengthen hamstrings, the ACE recommends incorporating moves such as the stability ball hamstring curl into workouts. Girls Can Jump, a blog devoted to sports injury prevention in women, also suggests avoiding squats and leg presses, which target the quads. Instead, one should focus on the core muscles, which help stabilize jump landings and overall balance.

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