Encouraging our adolescents to participate in grassroots sports reaps huge rewards in the form of physical health, mental health, team building and long-lasting friendships. Unfortunately injuries can occur and we want to minimize these. One of the more serious injuries affecting the knee is rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This ligament is a strong rope-like structure running through the centre of the knee joint providing stability and support to the knee. Sports that involve a lot of change of direction, jumping and twisting of the knee have a higher rate of injury of the ACL.
Unfortunately, ACL injuries in adolescents are increasing. While the body is still growing this injury is particularly difficult to treat. The recovery is prolonged with absence from sport for an average of 12 months, which can be hard to accept for a young person. In addition, surgical management in adolescents is more challenging with a higher risk of re-injury and joint arthritis further down the line than in adults.
Preventing these injuries occurring in the first place is therefore a worthwhile investment of time and effort on the part of everyone involved in youth sport.
Recently, a lot of interest has focused on prevention programmes with good evidence that regular use of an injury prevention warm-up can significantly reduce both first-time ACL ruptures as well as re-injury.
The way a person moves when they are changing direction or landing from a jump can put the ACL at risk of injury. The preventative warm-up programme targets movement patterns by incorporating, strength, plyometrics (springy-ness) and sport-specific agility training.
These programmes are easy to perform requiring no specific equipment. They can take the place of more traditional warm-ups and if performed regularly before each training session they can reduce injury rates by up to 50%. Adoption of correct knee positioning at landing and when performing cutting movements during these warm-up programmes is key to their success.