Preventing ACL injuries caused by contact is difficult, if not impossible, but you can reduce your chance of a non-contact knee injury. Non-contact ACL and other knee injuries typically occur when athletes decelerate, land from a jump or move from one direction to another. Their knees absorb a tremendous amount of force, especially if they make a hard cut or have poor technique.
To limit your chance of injury, here’s what you need to do from a technique and training perspective.
Ankle, Knee and Hip Alignment
Have you ever noticed a teammate’s knees cave in toward each other when he or she performs a Squat? Even the slightest amount of valgus can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the knee. If this happens on the field, it will almost certainly occur during deceleration, change of direction or landing. It’s important that the ankle, knee and hip are stacked, or always aligned. You should be able to draw a straight line through the joints at all times.
Taping the ankles or wearing a brace limits ankle mobility and causes stress to the knees. Knees are designed to move forward and backward. Ankles move in a much greater range of motion—forward, backward, left, right and diagonally—and play a critical role in agility. If your ankles cannot move due to tape or footwear, your knees will absorb more force.
Rather than bracing, focus on developing strength by integrating ankle exercises into your program—unless directed otherwise by a doctor. If you’re accustomed to wearing some sort of brace, start slowly and gradually progress the intensity to avoid injury.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
As a sports performance specialist, I have met and trained many athletes who have used improper technique throughout their entire athletic careers. Even if you’re an experienced athlete, take the time to relearn proper squatting, jumping, landing and cutting techniques. Focusing on the basics may not sound exciting, but it takes one to three months to relearn proper technique, compared to almost a year to recover from an ACL injury.