Tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are a tragic, but common injury in young athletes. These are significant injuries, usually requiring surgery for repair, months of rehabilitation, and an increased chance of developing knee arthritis in the future. The emotional and financial cost of these injuries can also weigh on the athletes and their families. .

Tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are a tragic, but common injury in young athletes. These are significant injuries, usually requiring surgery for repair, months of rehabilitation, and an increased chance of developing knee arthritis in the future. The emotional and financial cost of these injuries can also weigh on the athletes and their families.

Unfortunately, female athletes have been found to sustain this injury up to five times as often as their male counterparts, when participating in the same sports. Many theories regarding the factors that contribute to this increased risk have circulated, but some of them, such as how the knee is shaped or the different hormone levels in girls, are non-modifiable, and therefore, unchangeable.

There is evidence, however, that the technique an athlete uses to decelerate or land from a jump can place the knee in an unfavorable position, making it more prone to injury. There is further evidence that female athletes are more likely to use this improper technique than male athletes.

In response to this finding, injury prevention programs have been developed that help train the athlete, over several weeks, to land and decelerate in a position that is safer for their knee. Studies done on these training programs using female soccer players, in high school and college age athletes, have shown a potential decrease in ACL tears of more than 70 percent!

ACL tear injury prevention programs are implemented by a Certified Athletic Trainer, or certified specialist, who works with the athletes, usually beginning six to eight weeks before their season starts. Athletes meet two to three times per week to be instructed on proper mechanics, and do drills and strengthening exercises that help them learn how to use these mechanics, even when not thinking about it. They gradually progress from relatively easy tasks to more difficult tasks, with feedback provided by their instructor, ensuring that their technique is sound.

As their season gets underway, what they learned in the class is maintained with simple additions to their weekly practice schedule. Here at Nationwide Children's Hospital, our department of sports medicine offers injury prevention programs, including ACL tear prevention programs, that are age appropriate and sports specific, to help prevent injuries in our young athletes and keep them performing at their best.