There are estimated 35,000 head injuries in New Zealand per year, and many of those are sustained on the sports field. Concussion is a serious injury, and once someone has suffered a concussion it may increase the likelihood of sufffering another head injury or injury to another part of the body. Repeated concissions may also be linked to long term postconcussive symptoms such as as depresssion or degenerative neurological conditions (Patricios et al 2016)
If you play a sport that involves a lot of cutting, turning or change of direction then there is a risk of sustaining an injury to an important ligament in your knee called the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). This can happen in contact and non contact situations. During football (soccer) the most common way to injure your ACL is during non contact situations. These injuries happen when the body is unable to control the forces that come through the knee, either because of poor technique in the way you change direction, weakness in the muscles around the knee and hip, wearing the wrong type of footwear for the field you are playing on, or fatigue.
Females tend to injure their ACL’s more commonly than males in football.
ACL’s can be stretched (a grade 1 or grade 2 injury) or if there is enough force ruptured (grade 3 injury). Once an ACL has ruptured it does not rejoin or regrow.
What are the symptoms of an ACL injury?
Every incident is different and the ACL can be injured in contact and non contact situations. The ligament can also be injured in isolation, or there can be damage to other structures within the knee joint and to the ligaments that stabilise the knee. The ‘text book’ story of an ACL injury is when the athlete changes direction, the knee callapses and they hear a ‘pop’ from within the knee, and the knee subsequently swells up. Other symptoms can include:
- pain in the knee when you put weight through it
- pain and loss of movement at end range of knee flexion or extension
- feeling of instability or giving way
Can you prevent ACL injuries from happening?
Yes, it appears that we can reduce the risk of getting an ACL injury. There have been a number of studies that have shown that by doing a consistent warm up such as the FIFA 11+ or the PEP programme a couple off times a week reduces the risk of injuring your ACL. This is because they include strengthening exercises and neuromuscular control exercises as part of the warm up. Increasing your knee flexion angle (bending your knee more) when changing direction appears to reduce the risk of non-contact ACL injuries. Wearing the correct shoes for the field you are playing on can make a difference because if you are using shoes that have too much traction or grip then your foot can get stuck and the forces can go up to the knee. Practicing change of direction and agility exercises when fatigued may reduce ACL injuries.
What should you do if you suspect you have injured your ACL?
In the acute situation the current recommendation is to apply RICED management:
Rest (from running / sport etc… if you can take weight comfortably through the leg then you can walk on it) but crutches can be useful to make it more comfortable to weight bear.
Ice (you can use crushed ice in a bag for 10-15 minutes at a time, with something like a food cling wrap or a damp tea cloth between the ice and your skin to reduce the risk of ice burns). Repeat every couple of hours.
Compression: Use tubigrip or an elastic bandage
Elevation: Keep the knee elevated to try and reduce swelling
Diagnosis: It is important to see a physio or your GP to get an accurate diagnosis and so you can start your management plan as soon as possible.
You can book an appointment with one of our therapists by clicking here.
What can your Physio do in the acute period after an ACL injury?
Physiotherapists are trained in the diagnosis an management of ACL injuries. They can refer you for an X-ray and to Sport and Exercise Medicine Specialists or Orthopedic Surgeons to get an MRI to confirm the ACL rupture and to investigate the extent of damage to other structures in the knee such as articular cartlidge, meniscus, ligaments, tendons and muscles.
Make an appointment with your physio as soon as possible. They can help you improve and maintain the movement in your knee, reduce your pain and safely get you moving. They can provide crutches, education and advice and give you strategies to reduce muscle wasting that can happen if you don’t keep exercising and using your leg.
Should you have surgery if you have ruptured your ACL?
There is a trend in sports medicine to try conservative rehabilitation for an ACL injury rather than immediately have an ACL reconstruction surgery. It is important to start your rehabilitation straight away to reduce muscle wasting and There are a number of factors that can affect your decision to have an operation and an open and honest dialogue with your physiotherapist and orthopaedic surgeon is important to make the right decision for you. The indication for surgery is usually failed conservative management (where you have gradually tried to return to change of direction sports but the knee gives way or is unstable).
Allowing the inflammation and swelling on your knee to go down and getting full range of movement before having an operation is important.
Post surgical rehabilitation for ACL injuries
After surgery your physiotherapist can guide you through the different phases of your surgeons protocol. Progression through the different phases can take different times for different people so we use a criteria based progression rather than time as a means of knowing when you should progress to the next stage.
Rehabilitation initially is targeted at getting your range of movement back, getting you walking without a limp and using strengthening and balancing exercises to get your muscles working again.
Progressively challangeing your muscles to get stronger, retraining your running movement pattern, improving your balance and getting confident to hop and stop and change direction is all started once you have been cleared to do so by your surgeon.
We use video feedback to help give our clients information on how they are moving and to help retrain them to move in a more biomechanically advantageous way. We also train our athletes to be able to pass a return to function test before we progress to any high tempo change of direction activities. This includes but is not limited to:
- Single leg hop test
- Single leg triple hop test
- Single leg triple cross over hop test
- Single leg drop and vertical hop test
- Single leg leg press exercise 3 Rep Max test
Our sessions are one on one and we take our athletes out onto the field to help improve their technique and confidence in running in straight lines, changing direction, gradually progressing their on field movement patterns through speed and introducing perturbations and ballwork before clearing them to return to team training.
We also offer a group based Balance And Strength Exercise Training (BASE Training) bootcamp a couple of mornings a week to help build fitness, strength and to improve biomechanics.
If you would like an assessment or help on the way to restoring the functional stability of your knee get in touch. We will get you Back To Your Feet!!
Bizzini, M., Hancock, D., Impellizerri, F. Suggestions From the Field for Return to Sports Participation Following Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: Soccer. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2012;42(4):304-312. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.4005
Meierbachtol, A., Rohman, E., Paur, E., Bottoms, J., & Tompkins, M. (2017). Quantitative Improvements in Hop Test Scores After a 6-Week Neuromuscular Training Program. Sports Health, 9(1), 22–29. http://doi.org/10.1177/1941738116667933
Looking after athletes on the sideline is a challenge, and at lower levels of competition when funding is limited, is often provided by sports medics or trained First Aiders. I recommend you find a local physio that can help provide services for your team, and who you can contact if you have an injury on the field. If you are unable to source a professional then doing a Sideline Sports Medic First Aid course or a First Aid and CPR course will help give you the confidence to make good decisions when someone does get injured. Making sure you plan for all the eventualities and source a good ‘kit’ so you have what you need when an injury happens.
I think a good basic kit should contain:
- CPR mask and resuscitation card x 1
- Survival blanket x 1
- Scissors stainless x 1
- Gloves x multiple
- Management of blood products
Plasters Assorted water proof x 25 / gauze swab 7.5cm x 7.5cm / Sterile island dressings 7.2cm x 5 cm / Steristrips / non adherent wound pads 5cm x 7.5cm / swimming cap for head wounds / sealable bag to dispose of items with blood on
- Wound cleansing wipes x2
- Saline solution x 3
- Antiseptic cream
- Strapping materials
38mm Rigid tape / 25mm rigid tape /50mm EAB / 75mm EAB
- Compression bandages
Coban 75mm / coban 50mm /tubigrip
- Blister management materials
Second skin / blister plasters assorted sizes
- Vaseline / sports lube
- Massage Lotion / massage wax / warm up rub
- Cold spray / magic water
- Triangular bandage / Sling
- Instant ice packs
- ?Players medications / panadol
- Sport specific tools
Laces / studs / stud tightener / spare shinpads
- Pocket Concussion Recognition Tool
- Business cards for BTYF Physio
It takes a while to get a good kit together, and once you have created a good kit you need to remember to replace items you use. Every team or athletes requirements are often slightly different so make a kit that suits your team perfectly and encourage athletes to take responsibility to bring the things they may need.
With the opportunities to be involved in organised sport at a record high for our growing children, there are also a number of young people who are suffering from pain as a result of doing their sport. In the sporting context the term ‘loading’ refers to the amount of physiological stress placed on the body by activity. The amount of loading in a training programme can be thought of as a ‘dose-response’ relationship, in other words you will get a response from your body depending on the dose (of exercise or loading) you do. The body grows in a relatively linear fashion from the age of two until children hit the pubertal growth spurt. Girls tend to undergo the pubertal growth spurt before boys (see figure 1). If your body is growing, it is already under load from the process of growth. Jumping, running and other sports can add more load onto the body, which can sometimes result in pain.
Peak Height Velocity (PHV) is the period when the growth spurt is happening Females achieve their PHV earlier than males (on average for females at approximately age 12, males age 14) but there is a wide range in age from when individuals will achieve their PHV, from 9.5 to 14.5 years in females and 10.5 to 16 years in males. This can result in different responses to the same ‘dose’ of external load applied to athletes. For example, if two children undergo the same training load but one child was at peak height velocity they may be more likely to sustain an injury or growth related pain compared to a child that was months or years away from their PHV.
Figure 1: Peak Height Velocity for American Girls and Boys
A prediction of how far an individual is from their Age of Peak Height Velocity (APHV) can be calculated from the athletes gender, date of birth, date of measurement, height, sitting height and weight, and is based on the differential growth and timing of leg length and sitting height.
The closer an individual is to APHV the more accurate the prediction. Ideally the age to make the most accurate prediction would be 9 to 13 years in females and 12 to 16 years in males. This calculation has been shown to be accurate for white Caucasian population measured during the ages described previously.
Ensuring the accuracy of the measurements is essential, as any errors (especially in sitting height) will dramatically alter the precision of the prediction.
Knowing the APHV for individual athletes means we can tailor the loading programme for that particular athlete, during the training season and hopefully reduce pain from over-training whilst training during APHV. This handy online calculator does the calculation for you: https://kinesiology.usask.ca/growthutility/phv_ui.php
Another source of information that is useful for those planning training sessions for adolescent athletes is the subjective assessment of the exertion required to do the sessions (the rate of perceived exertion). In other words, how difficult is the session to complete for each individual on a score from 0-20 where 0 is the easiest score and 20 is maximum possible effort. The RPE scale is used to measure the intensity of exercise. The RPE scale runs from 0 – 20. The numbers below relate to phrases used to rate how easy or an activity feels.
Figure 2: Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale
|Level of exertion|
|6||No exertion at all|
|9||Very light||For a healthy person this would be walking at your own pace for a few minutes|
|13||Somewhat hard||Feels ‘somewhat hard’ but OK to continue|
|17||Very hard||Healthly athletes can still go on but really has to push themselves, they feel heavy and very tired|
|19||Extremely hard||This is usually the most strenuous exercise athletes will experience|
Using the RPE gives us feedback on how athletes are feeling. The numbers should hopefully correlate with how hard the trainer expects the session to be. So if the trainer was planning a light session but the athletes were recording RPE of 16 and above, then the trainer may need to reconsider his training plan.
The negative effects of overloading can be injuries, pain, fatigue, burnout, and ultimately, reduced performance, the opposite to what we are trying to achieve by training. Sometimes the first indicator of overtraining is a higher average RPE than normal to a training session, which may indicate the athlete is overloaded and may need a longer rest period, or lighter sessions for a while.
So how can we reduce the negative effects of too much load?
- First we need to quantify the number of sessions we are doing per week. Start by making a training diary. Record all the organised training sessions – gym, track, other sports, PE at school etc. However, this does not take into account the unorganised loading that our bodies undertake, such as playing with friends, skateboarding, etc., but is a good start. (If you did include the unorganised load that would mean your calculations at the end would be more accurate).
- We can get a subjective reflection on the amount of load that athletes feel they are under by using consistent measures over a period of time such as RPE. Subjective measures such as rate of perceived exertion (RPE) are moderately reliable if we are looking at the same subject over a period of time. Reviewing their scores and what you expected the athletes to score is important when planning future sessions so you can load the athletes appropriately.
- Understanding when the athlete is likely to hit their APHV gives the person who is planning the loading programme, a time period where they may want to increase flexibility sessions and perhaps reduce the load during this time period for their athlete.
- Make sessions fun, enjoyable and tailor them as best you can to each individual athlete
- Be flexible, although it is frustrating to have planned a session and then have to change it at the last moment, we need to listen to our athletes and, if they are not prepared for the load, of the training session they may break down.
- Make sure you encourage rest days, particularly after heavy training days. Athletes need to be allowed to load and recover so they can positively adapt to the load.
Remember we are here to help you stay on the track, on the field and enjoying your sport in a healthy manner. Get in touch if you would like more information
Glossary of terms:
RPE : Rate of perceived exertion
PHVC: Peak Height Velocity Calculation – the approximate date the body will be growing through the fastest rate of growth.
APHV (Age of peak height velocity)
Lambert, M.I., Borreson, J. (2010) Measuring training load in sports. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. Sep;5(3):406-11
IAAF specific considerations for the child and adolescent athlete https://www.iaaf.org/download/download?filename=538bb448-c750-452d-b01a-144b10a51aa6.pdf&urlslug=Chapter%204%3A%20Growth%20and%20Development
Mirwald, R.L., Baxter-Jones, A.D.G., Bailey, D.A., Beunen G.P. An assessment of maturity from anthropometric measurements. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2002: 34(4); 689-694
Ross WD, Marfell-Jones MJ. Kinanthropometry. In MacDougall JD, Wenger HA, Green HJ, eds. Physiological Testing of the High-Performance Athlete, pp 223-308. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, 1