ACL tears have become one of the most common injuries for athletes and weekend warriors alike. According to renown orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Dr. Nick (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 from muscle weakness or imbalances, poor biomechanics, compromised proprioception (the bodies internal balance and coordination mechanisms), and even gender (female athletes are 4-5 times more likely to tear ACLs than males) and genetics. Surgical procedures followed by months of physical therapy allow most people to resume normal activities (including sports) but it can be a long an arduous process. I know all too well as I tore my left in the Summer of 2009 and then the right almost a year to the day later. If I knew then, after the first ACL tear, what I know now, I would have had a good chance of avoiding the tear in the 2nd knee.
Preventing and recovering from ACL injuries requires strengthening of the muscles surrounding the joint: quadriceps, calves and especially the hamstrings. But as important, yet often overlooked during PT and after, is restoring your balance and coordination skills or proprioception. Proprioception helps you avoid falls, adjust for balance 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, but 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, improve your balance, stability and agility and thus your sports performance. 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 exercises into your routine.
Stand up straight with arms out
Raise one foot up and bend knee to rest sole of foot on inside of opposite knee.
Hold for 10-20 seconds on each side, do 1-3 sets.
Try closing your eyes for added challenge
Bosu or Disk Balance:
Using a Bosu Balance ball with 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 1 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