Injury Prevention for the Ankle and Knee

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Today’s athletes have pretty much become full time in one sport, while moonlighting in another.

The thought used to be that there were 3 different sport seasons and 1 would be played each season.

That idea is long gone and dismantled.

Soccer players play in the fall and spring, with indoor in the winter and camps over the summer. That has become completely year round.

AAU basketball primarily takes place in the spring and summer, which follows the winter school season and the fall preseason. Also, year round.

I am not picking on these two sports since other sports are equally as guilty but they will be my example.

No one want to acknowledge the effects that this year round schedule has on the kids. If the kids do not get burned out and quit the sport, they are at a high risk for injury.

The ugly truth is that these injuries are so prevalent because the kids are playing too much.

The two most common causes of these injuries is overuse and a lack of strength. Ankles and knees are particularly problematic in this regard. Doesn’t this sound like a common ailment of young soccer and basketball players?

I will concede that most athletes are not going to give themselves the kind of rest that they need. Coaches and parents have broken their athletes down into believing that the only way to be successful is to always be playing.

Playing a different sport in the off season has become blasphemy, if an offseason is even recognized.

There are a few things that we can do in order assist with the injuries on the knee and ankle.

Mobility

We need to have the right mobility in the right places. The ankles are a mobile joint, which means it is designed to move a lot.

A lack of ankle mobility does not allow the knee to move over the toe and puts a ton of stress on the joint.

Many kids may have great ankle mobility but equipment becomes an issue. High top shoes and shin pads that restrict the ankle’s ability to move are an injury concern.

To improve mobility we must first remove all external restrictions to it. Next we can perform some ankle mobility drills.

ankle mobility 2

Kneel down on one leg with the other foot right in front of you, 4 inches from a wall. Push the knee over the small part of the foot, trying to touch the wall.

2-3 sets of 8 each foot daily will be very helpful.

Stability

Stability and strength are on the same idea of each other and are necessary for preventing knee injuries especially.

The knee is a stable joint with very small ligaments holding it together. These ligaments alone cannot do the entire job. This is why ACL and MCL tears are devastating; they are responsible for holding the knee together but are destructible.

The muscle group that really helps out here is the posterior chain, or hamstrings and glutes.

Most athletes have great quad strength and dominance. The hamstrings and glutes are more important for lower body injury prevention.

A strong posterior chain supports and takes pressure away from the knee joint to create more stability.

A progression for activating the glutes is as follows:

  1. Lay down on your back and work on squeezing your butt as hard as possible, one side at a time. Use your hand to feel that it is activating hard.
  2. Next, come up into a bridge with the feet flat on the floor and try to use that same glute squeeze to get there.
  3. Last, from that bridge try to pick one leg off of the ground. The leg on the ground should be squeezing hard through the glutes with little from the hamstring.

glute-march

When done properly, this progression is very difficult.

Landing Mechanics

A lot of young people spend a ton of time jumping and landing, with poor mechanics.

When someone jumps and lands with their knees diving towards each other, then we have a problem.

The athlete first needs to be aware that they are doing it and it is not the right way to land.

They should be then instructed on how to land without valgus knees.

valgus knees

The last step is to practice the takeoff and landing in good position, progressively building up in height jumped.

The risk of blowing out a knee or ankle has grown exponentially in youth sports recently. The best way to counteract the risk is to play the same sport less often, opting for more variety of games.

When that choice is not made there are a few ways to work on preventing the injury. Good mechanics plus mobility or stability in the right places will make a huge impact on the athlete’s performance. Moving well will make them a better athlete with lower injury risk.