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If you are one of the estimated 56,000 people who have torn an ACL while playing sports this year, there are a few specific exercises that you must do to prevent reinjury. An ACL injury is one of the most common sports injuries in young female soccer and basketball players in the US. In fact, the New York Times published the following statistics on ACL injuries in college athletes collected by the N.C.A.A.:
The rate for women’s soccer is 0.25 per 1,000, or 1 in 4,000, compared with 0.10 for male soccer players. The rate for women’s basketball is 0.24, more than three times the rate of 0.07 for the men.
In a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, researchers found that strengthening hip extensors can help prevent knee injuries. Knee injuries are especially common in people who participate in sports that sometimes require single leg landings, including running and playing soccer. Knee injuries can be both physically and psychologically demanding, and some athletes find it hard to cope with sports injuries. Prevention is always better than rehabilitation.
Strengthening the hip extensors (the hip muscles located at the back of the hip that control hip extension, including the glutes and smaller stabilizing muscles) helps by stabilizing against external frontal knee loading during impact. Another study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that girls, adolescent girls, and women who underwent a 10-week ACL injury-prevention training program decreased their knee-extensor moments and increased their hip-extensor moments during landing.
Here are some exercises that you can do to strengthen your hip extensors:
- Leg Press – Sitting on a leg press machine, position your feet together against the crosspiece about shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward. Grasp the handle grips or sides of the seat. Bend your knees and lower the weight as far as possible without changing the position of your hips. Do not lower the weight so far that your hips start to curl up off the seat. Slowly push the weight back up using your heels, not your toes. Do not lock your knees at the top, but rather take the weight to just before lock. You can change your foot positions to vary the angle on the muscle. This exercise work your glutes and hamstrings.
- One Legged Box Jump – Stand on one leg facing a box. In one large dynamic movement, jump up and land on your standing leg, making sure to land as soft as possible allowing the knee to bend. Then, jump back down to starting position and land on your flat foot. This exercise strengthens glutes, calves, hamstrings, and quads.
- Back Extensions – Lie face down on a hyperextension bench, tucking your ankles securely under the footpads. Adjust the upper pad if possible so your upper thighs lie flat across the wide pad, leaving enough room for you to bend at the waist without any restriction. Start with your body in a straight line. Cross your arms in front of you or behind your head. You can also hold a weight for extra resistance. Slowly bend forward at the waist as far as you can while keeping your back flat. Do not round your back. Slowly raise your torso until your legs and upper body are in a straight line again. This exercise works your glutes and erector spinae (lower back).
- Bulgarian Split Squat – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place the instep of one foot on a bench. Step forward with the other foot, taking a slightly larger than normal step. Contract your glutes, brace your abs and keep your spine in a neutral position. Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Keep your upper body upright and your lower back flat. Push up to the upright position. Stay in a split-squat stance. Perform all reps for one leg and then switch.
Have you ever struggled with exercise-induced knee pain or a serious knee injury like an ACL tear? What exercises did you do to rehab your injury?
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