• ACL: A Celebrity Ligament

      When it comes to celebrity injuries, few make the headlines as often or as loudly as an ACL tear. SportsCenter does its part by looping the replays to catastrophic effect, yet it’s the ensuing months of surgery and absence that does its part to turn ACL injuries into the storyline of the teams we follow and the players we watch.

      When Tom Brady tore his ACL at the start of the 2008 season, the news reverberated across the NFL, spawning hundreds of articles and countless hours of pundits trying to parse the fallout. For a more recent example we turn to Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls. Rose tore his ACL on nothing more than a routine play, but a quick Google search shows over 100,000 results.

      With all this focus on ACL tears, you’d expect a little more discussion as to whom this particular injury affects and why. We can start by pointing to the types of sports played by Messrs. Brady and Rose. Football, basketball or any sport requiring sharp pivoting motions on the knee place an athlete at risk for an ACL tear. In the classic ACL tear, an athlete plants his foot into the ground and then pivots his knee in the opposite direction, wrenching the knee ligament.

      That explains why ACL tears are more common in football and basketball than cycling or running. When the knee is used in an “in-line” motion, little stress is placed upon the ACL. This isn’t to say that certain athletes are exempt from ACL tears; but regardless of the sport there are certain steps one can take to minimize the chance of an ACL injury.

      Stretching and lower body exercises are the most effective ways to lower one’s chances of an ACL tear, period. The ACL is an acronym for the Anterior Cruciate Ligament, a ligament that runs diagonally through the center of the knee, stabilizing the knee by connecting the femur to the tibia. Strengthening the muscles that surround the ligament allows for greater stability when dealing with the stresses of sport.

      There’s no way to fully prevent an ACL tear, so don’t despair if it ever happens to you. Pro athletes often rely on surgery and physical therapy to get them back to peak physical condition. Competitive recreational athletes may also choose surgery if they wish to return to the most demanding sports. For others, surgery may not always be the best option. There are still many exercises and activities one can do with a torn ACL, so before you make any decisions talk to your doctor and figure out what’s best for you. It may make the headlines, but an ACL tear won’t sideline the weekend warrior for long.