acl skiing Dec6th 2019

By Sasha Kolbeck, MPT, DPT, OCS, COMT, CO-OWNER

Ski season is approaching, and in the US, 50 of 100,000 skiers per day will tear their ACL. Overall, women are 2-8x more frequent to injure. Females are at higher risk for various reasons, some of which can be changed and some which cannot. The modifiable factors for females per Dr. Noyes research are Quadriceps dominance and Neuromuscular control:

  • Quadricep Dominance…The hamstring is the guardian of the knee. Women tend to activate the quadriceps, then the hamstring and have decreased hamstring strength, which puts the ACL at risk.
  • Neuromuscular Control…sensing, reaction time, and muscle pattern for movement and landing.

The modifiable factors for both male and female include: technique of jumping, cutting, pivoting, fatigue, knee position, and postural control.

What happens if I already have an ACL injury?

Despite the best efforts at modifying the above, you sustain an ACL injury, now what? Research supports the importance of prehab physical therapy to establish baseline for return to sport testing measurements, increase motion and strength, improve outcome, and increase return to sport.

After surgery, research shows physical therapy is again crucial. It should be at least 6+ months in duration. Patients who stopped treatment after 3 months were not able to pass return to sport testing. Treatment should be quality and comprehensive including hands on manual therapy, Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training, sensory training, strengthening, neuromuscular control, and testing to adjust and progress as appropriate. Long term deficits for months to years including change in brain activation requiring reliance on vision, running deficits, and weakness.  Blood Flow Restriction training leads to strength and increased muscle mass, and benefits of heavy resistance training without the strain on healing tissues. (Watch for future article for further information).

How soon can I return to sports after an ACL injury?

After working hard in physical therapy, what is the return to sport timeline? For recreational and elite athletes, it is 9-12 months and for those less than 20 y/o – 12-24 months is recommended.  For every month you delay return to sport after ACL reconstruction, the risk of re-injury is reduced by 51%, until 9 months post-operatively. Our local US Ski Team downhill skier, Jaqueline Wiles, will return to competition December 2019, after her extensive knee injury February 2018.

Part of the criteria to return to sport (RTS) includes testing. Of 62 patients, only 3.2% passed all RTS at 6 months and 11.3% at 9 months. It is important to note, that you can still re-injure with passing testing, but your risk is greatly reduced if tested at 9 months and you meet criteria. Testing needs to be comprehensive with multiple tests.  Even professional athletes are at a 4x increased risk of 2nd knee injury by not meeting all criteria, so those of us that are recreational, without the same amount of resources, definitely need to put the time in and pass testing.

What is my risk of re-injury after an ACL injury?

What is the data regarding re-injury? The greatest risk is at 1-2 years post injury. ACL graft remodeling takes 12 months for autograft (your tissue) and 24 months for allograft (cadaver).  The graft needs loading for healing, but too much can stretch the graft; hence, need physical therapy guidance. Women more commonly re-injure, but the most concerning statistic is 21% for those under age 25. Overall, there is a 20% re-injury rate for those that return to sport. A second ACL surgery has a higher failure rate and decreased patient satisfaction, prolonged physical therapy due to slower healing, delayed return to sport, and decreased performance, so it is best to put in the work and time to decrease risk of re-injury.

How can I prevent an ACL injury?

Research shows the importance of injury reduction programs such as Sportsmetrics®, to decrease the risk of an injury in the first place, or an additional injury. The injury reduction with these programs is a significant 40-65%. Maintaining strength also helps support the knee to decrease risk of arthritis. The added benefit of these programs is increased performance for power, strength, sprint time, agility, single leg hop, and jump height.

In closing, once you are given the go ahead to click into the skis, it’s imperative to continue your strengthening and injury reduction program. And before each ski session, complete dynamic warm ups such as below, to prepare your tissue to tackle the slopes.

Warm up before hitting the slopes
ACL Injury Prevention Warmups