Keeping Your Knees Healthy to Avoid ACL Injuries
Our bodies are designed to move and should move in a specific way, but how do you know if you are moving correctly to prevent injuries? In order to prevent injury to our knees, we need to be cognizant of our body’s movement and positioning. If not, we put ourselves at risk for injuries that may put us out of commision for an extended period of time. One of the most common and debilitating injuries can occur when we tear our ACL. This sort of injury may be preventable if we take care our knees while playing sports and during everyday activities.
1. What Causes ACL Tears?
Over time we develop ways of moving our bodies through space that allow us to accomplish a task. Sometimes we learn the incorrect way to move which puts us at risk for injury. You can get away with that movement, until you can’t. Eventually, your body will break down overtime or you’ll move with enough force to create an injury. This may occur due to exercising or playing a sport, but could also be as simple as picking something up while having your knee torqued a strange way.
2. Tips for Preventing Knee Injuries
Fundamentally, preventing knee injuries boils down to making sure you move your body the way it is designed, not the way your environment is allowing you to. For example, you can get away with moving incorrectly at the knee until enough force tears a ligament, or breaks down your meniscus/cartilage, or a tendon starts to degenerate.
- Avoid the position of no return. Eliminate torque in your knees by keeping your knees from going inward past your ankles, keeping an arch in your feet, and not letting your hips rotate inward.
- Use your hips and ankles to control your knees. Because your knees are primarily a hinge joint they move mostly in a single plane, therefore much of the rotational control comes from the hip and foot/ankle.
- When moving, try to put most of your weight/force through the muscles in your hips as much as the muscles around your knee. This will help you avoid becoming quad dominate and putting extra stress on your knees. It is common for many people to avoid using their hips to take pressure off their knees.
- Visually inspect yourself. Stand in front of a mirror and do a squat or sit down to a chair. Your knee should track over your foot, not inside. If your knees come together during either of these movements it may be a sign of a larger issue. Additionally, your knee should not progress forward over your toes during a squat, which increases the force in your knee. If this happens place more weight through your heels and stick your hips back more.
3. When an Injury Occurs
Seek out a physician immediately after an injury occurs to put you on track for a speedy recovery. As you are waiting for medical attention, perform RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) to alleviate swelling and pain. If surgery is required, you will need to reduce swelling, regain range of motion (if you have lost any), and get your muscles to reactivate.
It is recommended that you see a physical therapist prior to surgery so that you don’t lose quadriceps function as your wait for surgery, to educate you on the process, provide you with a home exercise program and even teach you on how to properly and safely use crutches.
At Therapydia, our physical therapists are dedicated to connecting with their patients one-on-one to provide unique care and education on their injury/recovery. Building this relationship is an invaluable part to your recovery as each injury is unique to you and your lifestyle.
Rehab is an important part of regaining range of motion and strength in your knee. Re-tears are fairly common, but physical therapy is linked with lower rates of recurring injuries. During recovery, your physical therapist will follow an evidence based rehabilitation protocol, but also formulate a plan based on your independent needs. Your goals for after surgery will dictate the length of time it takes to fully recover with an ACL repair. Your pain and swelling may be gone in 3 to 6 months, but it can take up to a year or more for the knee to completely heal. This is why it is imperative that you have full control of your knee during athletic movements. Your physical therapist will take you through multiple tests to ensure that you can control your knee when you are fatigued or under higher impact activities such as running, jumping, or cutting. This will ensure that when you get back to what you love to do, you will be able to enjoy the activity instead of being worried that you are going to hurt your knee again.
Physical therapy is an essential part of your recovery plan to ensure you don’t experience long term damage and can return to your peak performance as soon as possible. Re-tears are not only painful, but costly as they may result in the need for additional surgery. Having physical therapy as part of your recovery will help you recover right the first time so you have both the time and money to do the things you love.