Playing sports in high school is a great way to stay in good shape, make new friends and build leadership skills. However, if young athletes are not careful, they risk getting injured on the field. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are especially common among active teens and often require rehabilitation for several months. Young athletes may lose their skills and become less confident about returning to the field.
How Do Young Athletes Suffer ACL Injuries on the Field?
Knee injuries are more likely to occur during sports like soccer and football because they involve a lot of jumping and stop-and-go movements. If these movements are not performed correctly, a sudden force can hit the knees and tear the ACL. When athletes injure their ACL, they may hear a popping noise and feel sudden and intense pain in their knee. Swelling is also common and can last for several hours.
Do ACL Injuries Come With Long-Term Consequences?
Unfortunately, ACL injuries can affect young athletes long after the recovery period is over. They have a higher risk of developing knee arthritis than individuals without injuries. This condition can lead to chronic pain and decreased mobility in the knee. If there is not a lot of mobility in the knee, it becomes more difficult to perform everyday tasks, like doing laundry and grocery shopping.
Can Young Athletes Prevent ACL Injuries?
High school athletes can dramatically reduce their risk of ACL injuries by strengthening their muscles and learning how to move with good alignment. Here are several ways adolescents can protect their knees while playing sports:
- Do Squats: This strength training exercise improves strength in the thighs and hips. When the hips and thighs are strong, they provide more support for the knees. When performing this exercise, teen athletes should avoid collapsing their knees inward so that they don’t damage their ligaments.
- Practice Jumping: Learning how to jump and land safely can go a long way in preventing ACL injuries. Many athletes lock their knees when they land, which can increase injuries. The knees should be bent softly on each landing. High school athletes should practice their jumps several times a week with their teammates.
- Stretch: Some young athletes skip stretching before a game because they think it is boring. This is a big mistake. Performing stretching exercises can increase flexibility, making it easier to maintain proper form on the field. High school athletes should remember to spend several minutes stretching their hips, thighs and calves before each game.
- Eat a Nutritious Diet: Good nutrition plays a key role in preventing ACL injuries. Young athletes should limit junk food from their diets and focus on eating wholesome foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fish, chicken and whole grains. These foods will increase their energy levels and help them pay attention to their form on the field. It is also crucial for high school athletes to drink plenty of water throughout the game to avoid dehydration.
- Get Enough Rest: High school athletes often have busy schedules and may not always get the rest they need. Adequate rest, however, is essential for avoiding injuries. Without enough sleep, teen athletes may feel fatigued on the field and have sloppy form. To stay alert and focused, athletes should aim to sleep at least eight hours every night. It is also wise for adolescent athletes to take rest days as needed. If their muscles are tired and sore, they may want to refrain from physical activity for a day or two.
If you would like to learn more information about ACL injuries in young athletes, contact The Noyes Knee Institute.