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Physical Therapists Play Key Role in Reducing Frequency of ACL Injuries

A quick change in direction on the soccer field or a shaky landing following an explosive jump on the basketball court can spell trouble for the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Each year, the United States sees anywhere from 80,000 to 250,000 ACL injuries, resulting in about 100,000 ACL reconstructions, according to the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy. Moreover, statistics show the prevalence of ACL injuries has surged in recent years alongside a spike in youth sports participation.

With a reported 36 million kids (aged 5 to 18 years) playing organized sports each year, the chances of an athlete tearing her ACL are good. The populations most at risk are young female athletes—who sustain ACL injuries nearly 10 times more often than males—and young athletes who specialize in a single sport at an early age. To avoid the physical, emotional and economic toll of such an injury, athletes are beginning to embrace preventive programs.

Many think of physical therapists when it comes to treating ACL injuries, but the latest research shows a need for the rehab professionals to play an even bigger role in prevention. An American Journal of Sports Medicine study concluded that incidents of ACL injury drop by about 50% at the hands of neuromuscular and educational interventions led by physical therapists.  Specialized Physical Therapy therapists, Jeff Zimmerman and Mike Salerno, have extensive training and experience in the prevention and rehabilitation of ACL injuries.  Call for more information regarding treatment and prevention programs.

Contrary to popular belief, three-quarters of all ACL tears are NON-CONTACT injuries, occurring when an athlete cuts, decelerates or jumps. Sports including basketball, soccer, volleyball and football, and activities that involve jumping and landing, open field running and cutting or deceleration moves put athletes at a higher risk of ACL injury. Why are these routine moves so harmful? The biggest culprit is often muscle imbalance.

Physical therapists, particularly those who specialize in sports medicine, are trained to develop an individually tailored program based on an assessment of the athlete’s functional deficits in motion, strength and control. The program might address strength, flexibility and coordination, and correct existing movement patterns that may be damaging to joints.

It’s important to remember that regular neuromusculoskeletal evaluations with a physical therapist can help identify impairments, and reduce the risk of ACL and other injuries. And, there’s a lot at stake: post-operative rehabilitation will set an athlete back nine months on average, delay their return to sport, and in some cases, prevent a return to prior intensity and skill level.

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