Sports and ACL Injury Risk
Sports that involve rapid changes in direction, pivoting/side stepping, sudden stops, jumping and landing or physical contact can all place stress on the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), making it susceptible to injury.
Things to consider
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While most ACLs injuries occur playing sport, injuries can also occur via other traumatic events such as falls.
Movements that can causes ACL injuries:
- Pivoting – the athlete plants their foot, then suddenly changes direction
- Jumping and landing – the athlete lands awkwardly on one leg
- Hyperextension – the athlete twists or bends their knee backwards into hyperextension.
- Direct contact – when there is a strong impact/collision.
While there are potential risks of injury in most sports, there are some sports that have a higher risk of ACL injuries due to the physical demands placed on the knee joint, compared to others.
Sports with high ACL injury risk include:
skiing, soccer, AFL, rugby league, rugby union, touch football, Oz tag, netball, basketball, martial arts, mountain biking, motor cross, gymnastics
Sports with low ACL injury risk:
swimming, cycling, kayaking, rowing, paddleboarding, jogging, yoga, Pilates, cross country skiing
NOTE: Female athletes tear their ACL at a higher rate than men, with a frequency of two to eight times higher depending on the sport played. This increased risk is attributed to differences in anatomy, muscle strength and hormonal influences. 1
After injury, the goal of your doctor and physiotherapist is to return the strength and functionality of your knee. After consultation, you can choose the treatment pathway most suited to your particular injury and circumstances. This includes non-surgical and surgical treatment options.
The aim is to restore functional stability and return you to your preferred activities/sports and most importantly reduce the risk of sustaining a further ACL injury. For athletes younger than 25 years who return to their high-risk sport, the incidence of recurrent ACL injury after ACL reconstructive surgery is 23%. This highlights the importance of a comprehensive rehabilitation program, and ensuring the knee is fit to return to play before competing again.2
- The female ACL: Why is it more prone to injury? J Orthop. 2016 Mar 24;13(2)
- Wiggins AJ et al. Risk of Secondary Injury in Younger Athletes After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Am J Sports Med. 2016 Jul;44(7):1861-76.