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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Tag: ACL prevention

I rehab far too many athletes under the age of 18 with ACL tears. In many cases, I am rehabbing some who have suffered multiple ACL ruptures before they graduate from high school. The burning question is why do so many clients suffer a graft failure or contralateral injury so so often?

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Is it related to genetics? Is sports specialization to blame? Perhaps fatigue and limited recovery is a problem. I think the answer is multifactorial, but to be perfectly honest we as a profession have yet to truly arrive at a consensus as to when the “right time” to return to play is. Opinions vary widely based on the athlete, sport, native movement patterns, graft choice, additional injuries (ligament, cartilage or soft tissue) and the provider.

As a clinician dedicated to both prevention and the best rehab, I am always re-evlauating my own algorithm and rehab techniques, while looking for scientific rationale to direct my exercise selection and decision making processes. A recent paper by Webster and Feller in the November 2016 edition of AJSM looked at subsequent ACL injuries in subjects who underwent their primary ACLR under the age of 20 utilizing a hamstring autograft reconstruction procedure.


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Why is it that athletes performing a movement they have done so many times suddenly tear their ACL?  We have been studying ACL injury and prevention for many years now, and despite our best efforts, we have not made marked progress in preventing the number of ACL injuries.  In addition to anatomical variants and perhaps some genetic predisposition, I feel that the earlier push for sports specialization in our society resulting in increased training/competition hours is a major factor.

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The term ACL fatigue may or may not be familiar to you.  But in essence, this theory would suggest that after a certain number of impacts/loading, the ACL becomes weakened and less resistant to strain.  You could almost compare this to a pitcher who suffers an injury to his medial collateral ligament with too much throwing.

As someone who is consistently rehabbing athletes with ACL tears and screening athletes to assess injury risk, I am always interested in how we can keep people from suffering such a devastating non-contact injury. A recent article in the American Journal of Sports Medicine sought so assess ACL fatigue failure in relation to limited hip internal rotation with repeated pivot landings.

We already know that hip mobility is often an issue for our athletes.  Researchers at the University of Michigan sought to determine the effect of limited range of femoral internal rotation, sex, femoral-ACL attachment angle, and tibial eminence volume on in vitro ACL fatigue life during repetitive simulated single leg pivot landings.


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Whether doing prehab, rehab or training, I believe in using single leg exercises to attack asymmetries, imbalances and motor deficits I uncover in my assessments.  Learning to control one’s body in space with the effect of gravity in a weight bearing position is instrumental for sport and injury prevention.

Furthermore, facilitating ankle mobility and proper knee alignment during a loaded squat pattern is something most athletes and clientele I work with need some help with.  to that end, I utilize several different single leg reaching progressions and exercises.  One of my favorite ‘go to’ exercises is the anterior cone reach.

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I recently featured this specific exercise in my ‘Functionally Fit’ column for PFP Magazine.  Click here to see the video demonstration.

This is a great exercise with progressions and regressions for clients of all ages and abilities.

Click here to read the entire column.

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Every month there are new papers on ACL surgery and rehab appearing in the literature.  I do my best to stay up on them as this is one area of my practice I am extremely passionate about.  I am driven to understand as much as I can about both prevention and rehab, but find myself increasingly focused on preventing secondary ACL tears in my patients.

I feel poor movement patterns, muscle imbalances and inefficient neuromuscular control are major risk factors for athletes suffering a primary ACL tear.  We also know being female markedly increases injury risk.  Research also tells us that males are more likely to suffer a re-tear of the same side, whereas females are more likely to suffer a contralateral injury.

A study just published in the July issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the incidence of second ACL injuries 2 years after a primary ACL reconstruction and return to sport.  In a nutshell, the findings were:

  • 24 months after ACLR and return to sport, patients are at greater risk (6x) to suffer a subsequent ACL tear compared to young athletes w/o a history of ACL injury
  • Female athletes in the ACLR group are 5x more likely to suffer a second injury
  • The contralateral limb of female athletes is at greatest risk

Click here to read the full abstract

This information is not surprising as I have seen it firsthand in 17 years as a physical therapist.  What we do not have much information about is how do the younger patients (e.g 15 and under) really recover from this injury.  When should they be cleared?  I worked with a young female soccer athlete who tore her ACL and medial meniscus at age 13.  She worked diligently with me in rehab 3x/week for about 6 months and then continued training with me at least 2x/week until she was about 1 year out from surgery.


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Perhaps one of the most researched topics is ACL injuries.  I have been studying and working for years in my clinical practice to find the best ways to rehab athletes following injury as well as implement the most effective injury prevention strategies.  Prior studies indicate prevention programs even when self directed can be successful.

However, on the whole injury rates have not declined over the past decade or so.  Much attention has been given to valgus landing mechanics, poor muscle firing, stiff landings, genetic difference between males and females, ligament dominance, quad dominance, and so forth.  The predominant thoughts today for prevention center around neuromuscular training and eliminating faulty movement patterns (refer to work being done by Timothy Hewett and Darin Padua).

We also know from a biomechanical standpoint that the hamstrings play an integral role in preventing excess anterior tibial translation, and as such hamstring strengthening needs to be a big part of the rehab and prevention program.  I believe in hamstring training that allows for activation in non-weaightbearing and weight bearing positions.  Common exercises I will use include:

  • HS bridging patterns (double /single leg, marching, knee extension, stability ball)
  • Nordic HS curls
  • HS curls (stability ball, TRX or machine)
  • Sliders - focus on slow eccentric motion moving into knee extension followed by simultaneous curls/bridge
  • Single leg RDL (add dumbbells or kettle bells for more load)

Note: click on any of the thumbnail images above for a full view of the exercise.  From left to right: Nordic HS curls, sliding hamstring curls and single leg RDL).

A recent blog post entry by the UNC Department of Exercise and Sport Science (@UNCEXSS) has spurred my post today.  Click here to read their entry on optimizing injury prevention based on work done by Professor Troy Blackburn regarding the effect of isometric and isotonic training on hamstring stiffness and ACL loading mechanisms.  The research that was done holds promise for hamstring training designed to increased musculotendinous stiffness (MTS).


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