Jock Doc

ACL injuries and how to prevent them

 

Beginning today, Dr. Kaplan will appear every other Tuesday in Tropical Life.

Q. I live an active life that includes playing in local football and soccer leagues. Can you help me better understand and identify ACL injuries and treatment options available? Are there ways to prevent these types of knee injuries?

The ACL or Anterior Cruciate Ligament is the key ligament in the knee that provides stability and control of movement between the upper and lower leg bones. A torn ACL is a knee injury in which the ligament tears because of the twisting mechanism. This occurs in active teens and adults as well as athletes who play football, soccer, basketball and baseball, and popular recreational activities, like skiing and watersports.

A torn ACL may cause swelling and make it hard to walk. It may be difficult to support weight on the affected leg. Mild to severe pain may also be associated with this type of injury.

My advice would be to stop all physical activity to prevent a more serious injury from occurring, such as cartilage and meniscus damage. I would also seek immediate medical care.

Surgical and other treatment options are available and depend on the type of injury and the affected person’s age and activity level. If you are very active and play contact sports, you may consider ACL reconstruction. After surgery, you can resume normal activity, but will need to use crutches for walking and wear a full-leg brace for several weeks. The total recovery time back to playing sports is usually around six months.

We can decrease the rate of ACL injuries with therapy programs in youth sports, especially with young girls. These programs focus on strengthening the muscles, balance improvement and landing drills.

If you play contact sports like football and soccer, there is no definitive way to completely prevent a torn ACL. But changes in mechanics, in terms of jumping and exercising and strengthening the thigh and hamstring muscles, can help athletes decrease the risk of ACL tears.

My best advice is to stretch and exercise on a daily basis to condition and strengthen the leg muscles.

Lee Kaplan, M.D., is the chief of UHealth Sports Medicine, and medical director of University of Miami Athletics and Miami Marlins. Email your questions to uhealthsportsmedicine@med.miami.edu.

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