Regardless of athleticism, physical activity of any kind can result in injury if you’re not mindful. Let’s face it, if you participate in any sport, you are very likely to experience an injury at some point, whether it be a small strain or something more serious. While contact sports have their obvious risks, one of the most common knee injuries in athletes is actually non-contact induced. Any activity that involves changing direction quickly, jumping, and suddenly planting your feet can put a lot of stress on the knee; and young athletes are at an especially high risk specifically for ACL injury because of this.

The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is one of the key ligaments that help to stabilize the knee joint, connecting the femur to the tibia. It stabilizes the knee during rotation and prevents the tibia from moving too far forward in relation to the femur during those sudden stops, twists, and landing when jumping. But this ligament, just like any other structure of the body, can only take so much stress before it gives out. 

According to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, about 150,000 ACL injuries occur every year. Out of these, only 30% are due to contact, like a football tackle or car accident; and recent studies reveal that young female athletes are 4 to 6 times more likely to suffer a serious non-contact ACL injury than males. While there’s some debate as to the exact cause, there are some factors that singularly, or in combination with each other, greatly increase the risk. One is a narrow intercondylar notch. This is the groove in the femur through which the ACL travels. The intercondylar notch tends to be smaller in females, making injury more possible.  Another risk factor is the fact that females tend to have a wider pelvis than males, causing the bottom of the femurs to go in toward the midline at more of an angle. This causes females to be more likely to push their knees toward each other, especially when squatting or landing from a jump. One factor that puts all athletes at risk of an ACL injury is landing flat-footed instead of on the balls of their feet. This doesn’t allow the force to be absorbed in the feet and calves, which normally leaves the knees in the proper position, and instead can lead to buckling of the knees, putting far more force on the ligaments of the joint than they can potentially handle. 

As with most things, proper training can help reduce the risk of injury. Balanced strength training of the legs and hips, proper neuromuscular (balance and speed) training, and coaching on proper jumping and landing are all things that can help athletes to use correct form and take precautions when training and competing. It’s important to remember that just because young females are at a higher risk, that doesn’t mean all males and older females are perfectly safe from this type of injury either. Differences in build, muscle imbalances, and your sport of choice all play a role. These same precautions should be factored into all athletic training.

While being physically active and involved in sports is beneficial in many ways for people of all ages, training in the proper form and function of your activities can greatly reduce your risk of injury.