Knee Injury Prevention Strategies For Athletes
Nobody likes being injured. For an athlete, whether you are a professional, a high level competitive player, or even a weekend warrior, an injury can sideline you for sometimes 4-6 weeks or more, depending on the injury. Sports such as football (soccer), American football, basketball, etc. require a lot of jumping, landing, pivoting, and cutting type movements. These types of movements put a lot of stress on the lower extremity, specifically the knee, and as such the knee is a commonly injured joint in athletes competing in these types of sports.
Common Types of Problems
When we look at knee injuries, a common type of problem athletes can encounter is an injury to the ligaments of the knee. The knee has 4 main ligaments to help reinforce itself; the ACL, PCL, MCL and LCL. These 4 ligaments provide stability and support of the knee joint in various positions, and are important structures which help reinforce an athlete’s knee to perform at a high level during competition. If you are wondering what a ligament is, a ligament is a piece of tissue that connects one bone to another. Think of it like a rope attaching a tent to the ground, if the rope gets damaged or is completely torn, the tent is not nearly as stable. With that being said, would it not be a great idea if athletes could protect their ligaments in some way to help reduce the risk of injury?
Reducing the Incidence of Injuries
Recent studies show promising results looking at the effect of proprioceptive and neuromuscular training helping to reduce the incidence of injuries to the ligaments of the knee, most specifically the ACL1. Furthermore, performing these types of exercises as part of an athlete’s preseason training, in addition to in-season training, showed a significant reduction in incidence of knee injuries in general vs. performing them only during in-season training1. Proprioceptive and neuromuscular exercise training in athletes showed a 27% reduction in knee injury rate, along with a 51% reduction in ACL injury rate, when compared to athletes who did not perform this type of training1.
What is Proprioceptive and Neuromuscular Training?
Now what is proprioceptive and neuromuscular training, and what kind of exercises should be done to help prevent injury? Proprioception is our body’s ability to sense the position and movement of our limbs and trunk, along with its ability to sense the effort and force exerted during movement. We attain this ability through the use of our vision, our vestibular system, as well as feedback to our brain from our muscles and our joints during movement. Any exercises that can focus on ways to help improve balance and body control during movement will help to reinforce our body’s proprioception, and therefore help reduce incidence of injury. Furthermore, ensuring proper joint movement and mobility can allow the surrounding musculature to work at optimal muscles lengths, and this too can help improve the overall proprioception of the body, in this case specifically the knee.
Based on the above, it would be reasonable to say that athletes should be proactive, and implement proprioceptive and neuromuscular training into their training regimen to help prevent the incidence of future injuries to their knees. Seeing a physiotherapist can help address an individual’s strength/movement inefficiencies, along with improving overall joint mobility, to better equip them with the strength, proprioception, and mobility required to help prevent injury.
- Donnell-Fink LA, Klara K, Collins JE, Yang HY, Goczalk MG, Katz JN, et al. Effectiveness of Knee Injury and Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analysis. Zhao C, editor. PLoS One. 2015 Dec 4;10(12):e0144063–17