Q. “My 10 year old daughter just started AYSO youth soccer this year. I keep hearing about ACL injuries with the older girls. What is that, and how can I keep it from happening to her?”
We’re happy to hear your daughter is beginning a new sport this fall! The ACL is the anterior cruciate ligament – it is in the knee joint and spans from the back of the thigh bone to the front of the larger shin bone. This ligament is a main stabilizer of the knee joint and mostly responsible for preventing the shin bone from sliding forward on the thigh bone.
There are two ways the ACL is torn: contact (ie. a player hits another’s knee forcefully) and non-contact (ie. the player lands from a jump incorrectly and injures their own ACL). Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to prevent a contact ACL injury because no matter how strong your daughter is, she cannot always prevent another player accidently running into her at just the right angle.
Non-contact injuries to the ACL most commonly occur when the knee joint is moved or pushed inward – think knocked kneed position. Girls are at more risk to tear their ACLs after puberty due to increased hip width and muscle imbalances that often encourage their knees to be in this position during movement.
Ways to help prevent a non-contact ACL injury include: stretching major muscle groups before and after sport sessions, strengthening hamstrings, strengthening hip muscles (especially gluteus medius which is influential in knee positioning), and learning proper body mechanics during jumps or other sports movements. Physical therapists regularly teach athletes to perform these prevention strategies.