It is not uncommon to be in the clinic after school and see at least one young patient rehabbing an ACL tear. The ACL or Anterior Cruciate Ligament is one of the four major ligaments in the knee. It’s located deep in the knee, and is a crucial stabilizer for rotation and forward movement.1 Non-contact, planted twists of the knee are the most common mechanism of injury, especially in sports such as skiing, soccer, football, basketball, wrestling, and gymnastics.2 Beyond the hard work of rehabbing the knee to pre-tear condition, the emotional toll it takes on the young athlete is often great due to missed practices and games, even potential loss of scholarship opportunities.

Estimates over the last 10 years show the incidence of ACL injuries has increased by 400%.3 Why is this so? Possible contributing factors include longer sport seasons, limited recovery time, and pressure to perform at higher levels. Children are beginning sports at younger ages and specializing in positions that sometimes lead to repetitive use injuries. We also often see an expectation for young athletes to practice and play at very high levels, but injury prevention is lacking in their training.

The best way to decrease risk of ACL tears is to be proactive. Making sure athletes are properly warming up, training with good technique, and performing preventative exercises specific to their needs are key in injury prevention. Rehab and training activities should improve agility, speed and power, but also focus on plyometric exercises and balance drills to help improve neuromuscular conditioning. Athletes should develop an individualized plan with their Physical Therapist, taking into consideration their sport, season length, level of performance, coaching input and goals.

1 Knee Injury, Soft Tissue at emedicine
2 Dr Langran “Alpine Ski Injuries”,, December 5, 2010
3 Fein, Marc. “ACL Injuries Up 400% in Young Athletes.” Sept 18,2012. Accessed May 27, 2015.

Physical Therapist at Freedom Physical Therapy Services
Molly Rittberg received her master’s degree in Physical Therapy in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and went on to receive her doctorate from Rosalind Franklin University (North Chicago) in 2009. She has since worked in an outpatient orthopedic practice where she worked with patients of all ages, injuries and disabilities. She has a wide variety of experiences including knee, ankle, foot and shoulder injuries, post-operative conditions, spinal rehabilitation and peripheral neuropathies.