The NFL vs the ACL


jordy

Like any other red-blooded American late summer/early fall is a very exciting time. Football is coming back and most importantly; I can craft the next fantasy football champion. However, there is always a concern to me, other fantasy football aficionados and the NFL as a whole, high profile injuries and for the purpose of this article; ACL injuries.

Since the 2011 lockout and the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which limits how much offseason training a team can do with player the number of non-contact related ACL injuries have been sky high. Before the current CBA, teams were allowed to have a longer training camp and the players would have more face time with the team strength coaches before the riggers of practice and preseason started.

But before we get into all the details, let’s go over some background.

First and foremost, what is an ACL?

The knee is made up of 4 ligaments that holds the femur (upper leg) and the tibia (lower leg) together at the knee joint. The 4 ligaments are the Medial collateral ligament (MCL) that is along the inside of the knee, the Lateral Collateral ligament (LCL) that is along the outside of the knee, the Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) that is along the backside of the knee and the all important Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) which is along the front of the knee.

527px-Knee_diagram.svg

The MCL and LCL prevent too much movement side to side and the ACL and PCL prevent too much movement from front to back. An injury to the ACL means that the tibia went to far forward as compared to the femur, which usually happens when the knee twists during deceleration (i.e. Jordy Nelson) or a stiff leg landing (i.e. Shaun Livingston). Then there are always the direct contact ACL injuries like Adrian Peterson or Willis McGahee had.

There are 2 types of ACL injuries, a partial tear and a complete tear. Neither is fun and if there is instability in the knee require surgery and a lengthy recovery period.

 

complete tearHealthy__ACL_With_Tear

So why the increase all these ACL injuries?

Has someone ever told you that you are a snowflake and each individual has their own strengths? Well some people are good at tearing ACLs. Not a talent I would want, but some people are just more anatomically susceptible to ACL injuries. Women for example, have a wider pelvis that increases the angle towards the knee which increases the tension on the ACL. This increase in angle causes women to have more ACL injuries than men. Muscle contraction reaction time, overall muscle strength and coordination also attribute to an increase risk for ACL injuries.

If you are anatomically more susceptible there are some orthotics and training that can be done to help lower your risk. Sometimes all you might need to strengthen your hamstrings to help keep your lower leg from shifting too far forward.

Going back to the NFL players, in most cases there are a few other factors that attribute to the increase in ACL injuries besides being anatomically at risk:

The Balls to the Wall Approach

So after the current CBA went into effect, the time a team got to spend with a player went down. Instead of all the players ramping up the workouts slowly with the strength staff over a period of months they have just a few weeks to get into game shape. Even for top tier athletes that is a tough task. Supreme athlete or not, the body still needs time to adjust to the riggers of an NFL game. Not to mention the heat of July wearing on athletes. Going from a comfortable air-conditioned gym to 90 degree full out workout fatigues and dehydrates players which increases bad mechanics and injuries. Think about how tired you get after doing anything out in the sun for a day. Now think about how tired you would be running all out dodging 250lb men trying to take you job in 90 degree heat.

Artificial Turf

For anyone that has played on artificial turf or watched the football played on artificial turf knows that everything happens a little faster. Whether it is straight line running or cutting, the players seem to move faster on artificial turf. First off you are not crazy, they actually are and second, that happens because artificial turf has a higher coefficient of friction than natural grass. Watch out a little Physics talk here. A higher coefficient of friction means that the players’ foot seems to stick to the surface that increases the friction between the foot and turf thus increasing the power to move forward or side to side. Great for fans because this creates a more exciting game but bad for the players’ knees. Since the force is increased at the foot, that means when the force is transferred up the leg the knee sees more force as well.

The only thing NFL teams can do to remedy this is trying to limit the artificial turf time for the players. Most fields are switching over if they aren’t already to artificial turf because it is cheaper to maintain than a natural grass field.

If NFL players get hurt going from 0-100 what chance does the weekend warrior have?

So more than likely your better days have past you by but you still love the game and like to get out there every once in a while, talk some trash and relive your youth. So are you more susceptible to ACL injuries? Yes and no. Yes because as you get older the body doesn’t work as it once did. Muscles ache; joints are stiff and your overall activity level drops thanks to adult responsibilities. Who remembers waking up with an achy back when they were 20? I sure as hell don’t.

However, if you are active, not overweight and hit the gym once in a while you are more than likely going to be all right. Brace your ego for a sec, for most of us, we weren’t top-level athletes as a kid so the glass ceiling for us really isn’t all that high. Meaning, the amount of force put on your ACL as a result of cutting or landing after a jump isn’t close to the force of an NFL player. Now if you were a bad athlete as a kid, are over weight or are anatomically susceptible to ACL tears then I would play it cautious, you can’t fight nature.

To help prevent ACL injuries here is what you can do:

 

  • The best thing to do is stay active as your get older. Keep the joints oiled and the muscles strong.

 

  • Keep a balance when working out your legs. Hamstrings need love too. Not just for keeping your ACL in one piece but for your overall well-being. All the muscles are interconnected so a weak hamstring could lead to a whole host of imbalances and pains.

 

  • Warm-up before you play sports. They might laugh at you when you stretch or go for a jog before you play but you can laugh at them when they pull something and you run past them.

 

  • Stay hydrated on hot days especially. Fatigue = bad mechanics = injuries.