The most common and feared injury in sports like football, soccer, and basketball – where you're twisting and turning, accelerating and decelerating, jumping, pivoting, and changing direction – is the ACL injury.

In short, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) plays a critical role in stabilizing your knee joint.

While any injury on the field or court is an unexpected accident, there are ways to prevent an ALC injury (or at least lessen your chances of injury). Here are 5 ways to help keep your ACL safe and healthy:

  1. Be Aware Of Your Knee Placement

Being aware of your body alignment is the first line of defense when it comes to preventing injury. In the case of protecting your ACL, you want to align your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles. No matter what you're doing – standing, cutting, jumping, etc. – this alignment is crucial in keeping your ligaments safe.

For example, if you let your knees turn inward when changing direction (think suicide runs), you put unnecessary strain on your knee joint and ACL. Keep your knee under your hips and over your ankles, and you'll stay safe

  1. Warm Up Before Your Activity

It's smart to warm up your muscles, so you increase your blood flow and relax your muscle fibers. Warming up is easy too. Simply jog in place or around the field or court. Follow your jog up with some light dynamic stretching and you're all set.

NOTE: It's important to focus on dynamic stretching before your activity and not on static stretching. Static stretching, where you hold a stretch for 10 seconds or longer, can weaken your muscles before you train or play and increase your risk of injury.

  1. Stretch After Your Activity

Like warming up before your activity, it's smart to cool down and stretch after you work out or play a game. Doing so will help “reset” your muscle fibers and condition them for muscle balance.

Injury oftentimes stems from muscle imbalance (one muscle group being tighter than another). To prevent injury it's important to balance your muscles with static stretching.

  1. Strengthen Your Leg And Core Muscles

Strong muscles are healthy muscles, and strong muscles keep your body in alignment and in check when you're moving through space (running, jumping, pivoting, etc.). To lessen your chance of an ACL injury, it's imperative to strengthen all the muscles in your legs, hips, and calves.

For example, when it comes to strengthening their upper legs, most people focus their attention on their quads and hamstrings. But did you know that there are more than a half dozen other muscles in your upper leg that allow your hip and knee joints to function?

It's true. And those secondary muscles are no less important than your primary muscles. They all need to be strong to be healthy. Remember, when there's an imbalance, injuries occur.

  1. Practice Proper Movement Patterns

The human body really is a miraculous structure. Not only can our bodies move in a variety of directions, they can also sense other factors in the environment and adapt our movements.

For instance, when you run on a real grass field during a football game, your body must not only move you, it must also simultaneously calculate your footing and adjust your movement to keep you safe.

That's why practicing proper movement patterns through foot drills, balance drills, and agility drills can make a significant difference in injury prevention. These drill help train and condition your body, so your body can make minute adjustment in real time.

Follow these five prevention tips, and stay as healthy and safe as you can.

However, like I said earlier, injury on the field or court is an unexpected accident. No one knows when injury will strike. So, if you find yourself with an injury (ACL injury or other injury), please know that UPMC – St. Margaret's is here to help.

You can call us anytime with any issues or to schedule a visit with one of our highly trained doctors. We'll take care of you and help you get back in action!