The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) protects the foot from injury, ensuring the stability of the knee joint. Despite the fact that the ACL can withstand a huge load on the knee, a sudden strong blow (for example, when it stops suddenly or when twisting) can cause stretching. The result of the rupture of the ligament and unstable knee joint are pain and swelling. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect the ACL and prevent it from breaking. Just take a look at Method 1 below to get started with the article.
Method 1. Strengthen and Maintain ACL
Do weight exercises to stretch your muscles and provide support for ACL. One of the most important ways to protect your ACL and prevent it from being injured is through weight exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee (calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps). The stronger these muscles, the more support they provide, both for the ACL and for the knees in general, which reduces the risk of tearing or stretching.
Keep reading if you want to find a list of the best weight exercises to support ACL. As soon as you can do them without much effort (maintaining the correct position all the time), add loads (such as dumbbells or barbells).
Squat to strengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps, buttocks, and calves. Stand straight, feet shoulder-width apart, socks apart. Rotate your hips back and bend your knees, as if you were going to sit on a chair. Continue until the hips are parallel to the floor, then return to the starting position. Keep your back straight and head up when doing the exercise, not allowing your knees to extend beyond your toes.
Lunges to strengthen the hamstrings, quadriceps, and buttocks. Stand straight, feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step with your right foot, lowering your hips and bending your knees until both knees form a 90-degree angle. The front knee should not extend beyond the toes, and the rear knee should not touch the floor. Return to starting position and repeat the exercise, changing legs. Keep your back straight and head up while doing the exercise.
Rotate your hips to strengthen your hamstrings, buttocks, and thighs. Stand straight, feet shoulder-width apart, pull in your chin and stomach and tighten your buttocks. Rotate your hips back, as if closing the door with your buttocks, hands trying to touch your toes. Continue until you feel a stretch in the back of the hips, then slowly return to the starting position. Do not stop when doing the exercise, trying to maintain a natural deflection.
Raise your calf to strengthen your calves. Stand straight, feet shoulder-width apart, socks straight. Squeeze your calf muscles and climb toes as high as possible. Stay in this position for a second, then slowly lower yourself, returning to the original position. Keep your back straight and look straight ahead while doing this exercise.
Method 2. Do the exercises wisely
Always warm up before exercise. Proper warm-up before exercise is necessary. This allows your body to exercise fully and helps prevent ACL injuries, as well as injuries of other muscles and ligaments. A good workout gives an adrenaline rush and improves blood circulation. This provides oxygen to the muscles and lubricates joints and ligaments to prevent injuries. Even 5-10 minutes of active stretching is enough to warm the body well.
Stretch before each workout. Active warm-up warms and stretches muscles and ligaments much more effectively than passive stretching. Some good active stretch marks include:
- Jumping: Stand straight. Jump with your arms swinging over your head and spreading your legs shoulder-width apart. Return to starting position and continue the cycle for 5 minutes without stopping;
- Raising the knees: Find a free spot of 15 meters. Run by raising your legs to the level of your hips and lowering them on your toes. Repeat 4 times, running around the entire area;
- Touching the buttocks: Find a free spot of 15 meters. Run with your hands behind your back and reaching for the buttocks with the heels. It is like running a cheerleader. Repeat 4 times, running around the entire area.
Make sure you run correctly. The right running technique can help relieve pressure on the knees and reduce the likelihood of tearing the ACL. Many people do not run correctly without even realizing it; therefore, it is necessary to consider this problem.
When jogging, the legs should land gently to absorb the impact, while the length and speed of the stride should be in perfect balance to make running more effective and not subject the knees to unnecessary work.
If you think you are running incorrectly, hire a certified strength trainer who will test your running technique and correct muscle imbalances, which will help you run smoothly and efficiently. Wearing the right sneakers will also help correct the imbalance.
Exercise regularly during the week, not just on weekends. Many people fall into the trap of being extremely active and doing a lot of exercise on the weekend, but not doing anything during the week. This may sound useful, but in fact, the risk of injury is getting higher.
This is due to the fact that the muscles and ligaments are forced to work very hard to compensate for the lack of activity during the week. This puts the body into stress and makes the muscles and ligaments more vulnerable to stretching and tearing.
You can avoid this by maintaining a constant level of physical activity throughout the week. If you don’t have time to work out in the gym, try to get to work on foot or by bicycle, park far from the entrance, or use the stairs instead of the elevator.
Keep the correct position while lifting weights. Weight lifting is an important part of any exercise cycle, but it is disturbing how often people do not maintain the correct position during training. The correct position is extremely important, especially for weight exercises on the lower body, where a large number of sprains of the ACL and the knee as a whole can occur.
The right stance trains the knees, gives strength to the hips and supports the knees, allowing the ankles to provide a stable starting position. As a result, maintaining the right position is an essential component when it comes to injury prevention.
Use the help of an experienced weightlifter or consult with trainers to learn the correct position, and then apply it in training. Let someone observe your occupation to make sure the position is correct.
Gradually increase weight – do not rush to lift heavy weights, because you will suffer. In general, increase weight by only 5-10% (for lower body exercises) or 2-5% (for upper body) every week.
Alternate cardio loads. Cardiovascular endurance is important for the protection of ACL, as poor endurance leads to muscle weakness and joint instability. This creates additional pressure on the ligaments and makes them more vulnerable to injury. However, daily use of the treadmill puts a strain on your knees, so it’s important to alternate between running and other cardio exercises.
- Bike: The bike spares the knees because the thigh muscles are heavily loaded and there is no contact between the legs and the ground;
- Step simulator: Walking on steps does not load the knees due to the contact of the feet with the ground;
- Rowing: Rowing focuses on the upper body more than the lower, allowing the knees to rest;
- Swimming: Swimming provides a large cardio load, but has little effect on the knees.
Method 3. Healthy eating and lifestyle
Get enough sleep, as this promotes self-healing of the ACL after training. Sleep is an important tool for restoring the body because microscopic ruptures of muscles and ligaments will have time to recover themselves during sleep. Lack of sleep deprives the body of time to recover, which leads to a high risk of injuries.
In addition, sleep loss gradually slows down the response of muscles to high loads and reduces awareness of the exact positioning of the body. Both factors lead to rupture of the ACL.
It is recommended that you sleep at least 6 hours, ideally 8 hours a day. Experts say that people who try to fall asleep at the same time will sleep soundly all night.
Avoid training if you slept less than 6 hours last night, as lack of sleep leads to poor coordination and balance. As a result, the risk of injury becomes much higher. In this case, it is better to postpone the workout and relax.
Avoid overweight, as this creates an additional load on the ACL. Being overweight or obese greatly increases the chances of rupture or stretching of the ACL. This is due to the fact that ACL works more intensive because the weight of the upper body is heavier.
The most effective thing you can do for ACL is to lose weight (only if you are overweight). Consult a doctor or nutritionist to create a healthy diet and exercise plan that can help you lose weight safely and effectively.
Eat a healthy diet for energy and weight loss. A healthy diet is another important aspect of the protection of ACL, as it provides the muscles with enough energy for safe and effective work and allows you to lose excess weight, which loads the knees. Some examples of a healthy diet include:
- More vegetables. Vegetables are rich in fiber, which saturates you, so every meal should contain greens. If you eat salad, do not season it with sauce, use olive oil;
- Whole grain products. Whole-grain foods saturate you because they continually secrete sugar and are rich in fiber. Simple carbohydrates (white bread, pasta) are the cause of increasing and lowering blood sugar, and you often feel hunger. Examples of whole-grain foods are whole grain bread, pasta, brown or red rice, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes;
- Eat often in small portions. Three balanced meals and three snacks every day every 3 hours are ideal for improving metabolism. For snacks, choose fruits and low-fat milk or yogurt;
- Eat slowly. The stomach needs 20 minutes to saturate. If you swallow food without chewing thoroughly, you will consume more calories than you really need. Take time to chew on food and enjoy the aroma that will make you more satisfied.
Drink 8 glasses of water every day. Good hydration helps maintain metabolism at a high level, providing more energy for exercise and burning calories even at rest. This will help to reduce weight (pressure on the ACL) and do it more efficiently (strengthening ACL and surrounding muscles).
Dehydration, on the contrary, reduces blood circulation in the body. This contributes to poor coordination and balance, as muscles and the brain receive less oxygen. The ligaments have to compensate for all these shortcomings and strain, which is the risk of injuries and ruptures.
Prevent dehydration by drinking a cup of water every 20 minutes for physical activity. Drink more often if you are outside in hot weather. You can drink two glasses of water 20 minutes before activity. This will replace water intake during activity for sweat loss.
Be very careful if you are on the “risk” list for personal injury. Certain factors can increase the likelihood of an ACL rupture, so it is important to be careful when strengthening and protecting your ACL if one of the following risk factors applies to you:
- Sports: Sometimes, athletes involved in a particular sport (such as soccer or basketball) can turn sharply or stop, which will cause an excessive load on the ligaments of the knee and cause them to break;
- Gender: Women are more prone to rupture ACL than men. In women, there is usually a lateral curvature in the knee joint, known as “valgus deformity of the knee joint,” which increases the likelihood of injury to the knee ligaments;
- Weak muscles: Based on some studies, women usually have a disproportionate strength in the hamstring and thigh muscles. In most women, the thigh muscles are stronger than the hamstring muscles, which leads to stress on the knee joints when they are straightened, and potentially leads to an ACL injury.