By: David Merson, DPT, ATC
Non-contact based knee injuries are common and preventable during youth, collegiate, and recreational sports participation. You may ask, “How can I reduce my risk of knee injury?” The short answer is through focused strength and conditioning. And you may also be wondering, “Am I at risk for this type of injury?”
An example of a non-contact knee injury is when an athlete lands with poor knee control then twists in the knee in such a way that the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is sprained or torn. Simply put, these injuries are characterized as a plant and twist mechanism of injury. Females are at a higher risk than males due to inherent alignment differences. Additionally, decreased balance, decreased lower extremity flexibility (i.e. tight IT Bands), and weak leg strength put you at a higher risk of non-contact knee injuries.
As mentioned above, strength and conditioning is the short answer to the question of injury prevention, however, other steps are pivotal in this process:
1. Assessment – In the ideal world an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or skilled sports medicine professional should perform a biomechanical, strength, flexibility, and functional assessment. However, this is not always possible. One way to perform a self-assessment is as follows: perform squats, lunges, and single leg balance exercises in front of the mirror. If these are challenging, you note weakness on one side, or your knees go out to the side or in during the movements, then you are at a higher risk of knee injury.
2. Program Development – Once the assessment takes place, it will be important to pick 3-5 findings from the assessment to work on through the exercise program. Trial and error is part of the process. It is important to find exercises that are challenging, but successful performance of the exercise is possible (see the examples below).
3. Exercise Program – Three typical exercises that can be performed in an effort to prevent knee injuries are band walks, single leg balance on an unstable surface, and squat variations. See Dr. Looney’s blog on “Runners’ Supplemental Six Pack” for more information about these exercises. Please be advised many other exercises can be performed with multiple variations. Exercises of this nature are used often in reducing existing knee pain too.
If you are currently experiencing knee pain and would like to reduce risk for further injury, consider scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist.
Dr. Merson is a Physical Therapist at Boston Sports Medicine