ACL Injuries and Basketball

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ACL Reconstruction Surgery



Spectrum: Rehabilitation of Athletic Movement for Return to Sport

For basketball fans, March means college basketball. But with the excitement of March comes a type of injury common to basketball - anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries.


Three players from prominent tournament teams - the University of Kentucky's Alex Poythress, Virginia Commonwealth University's Briante Weber and the University of North Carolina's Desmond Hubert - suffered season-ending ACL injuries this year. Some teams continued to thrive - Kentucky is undefeated and Notre Dame advanced to the championship in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament - while other teams struggle. (VCU has lost four games since Weber's injury.) An ACL injury is a devastating loss not only for the athlete, but also for the coaches and team.


Season-Ending Injuries


There have been more 20 ACL injuries men's Division 1 basketball this year. The number of ACL injuries for female basketball players is not known, but considering females are two to 10 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than males, the number of ACL injuries could be two, three or even four times more than men.


Each year 120,000 athletes in the United States are affected by ACL injuries and 6 percent to 32 percent of those athletes will go on to suffer a second ACL injury upon returning to sport. ACL injuries are an epidemic in high school, college and pro sports leading to long-term complications, failure to return to previous level of activity, months of rehabilitation, psychological implications and substantial time loss from sport. One study showed that only 64 percent of athletes return to competitive sports and 37 percent of males and 26 percent of females return to their previous ability in that sport following an ACL reconstruction. This alone demonstrates the importance of having a great surgeon and following a comprehensive rehabilitation program specifically aimed at return to sport.


ACL injuries most often occur while landing from a jump or pivoting laterally to change direction while running. These are considered non-contact ACL injuries. Although a portion of ACL injuries occur through mechanisms of contact such as a blow to the outside of the knee, non-contact injuries are more common and are at the pinnacle of prevention and rehabilitation research.


Athletes may have to be away from their sports for 12 months following an ACL reconstruction, and that time is filled with physical therapy, independent workouts, time away from school and an athlete's team, psychological challenges and months of dedicated hard work to return to their sport.


Rehabilitating and Preventing ACL Injuries


Current research demonstrates the importance of modifiable risk factors such as neuromuscular control (balance, coordination, movement) and biomechanics (jumping and running technique) in the prevention and rehabilitation of ACL injuries. Neuromuscular control and biomechanics reflect how an athlete moves (how they land from a jump, pivot, cut or accelerate). These factors encompass not only movement and alignment at the knee but also at the hip, ankle and trunk.


Lower extremity and core strength are important components of the rehabilitation process and complement learning the correct neuromuscular control and movement patterns for athletic skills such as jumping, bounding, hopping, accelerating, decelerating, changing direction and other sports-specific movements.


Rehabilitation following an ACL reconstruction is a complicated and long process requiring social support, motivation, physical and mental strength. If you are trying to return to recreational or competitive sport following an ACL reconstruction or any lower extremity injury, consider joining the UW Health Sports Medicine's group rehabilitation class, Spectrum: Rehabilitation of Athletic Movement for Return to Sport. The group class is organized into three phases to meet the needs of athletes throughout their continuum of rehabilitation. In phase 1 the focus is on basic neuromuscular movement patterns such as squatting and lunging. Phase 2 progresses to more dynamic impact activities such as jumping and bounding. Phase 3 incorporates higher intensity activities preparing an athlete to return to sport such as cutting, pivoting and hopping.