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Life in Motion

March Madness: ACL Injuries

Sports & Exercise

With an estimated 70 million people filling out a tournament bracket and the NCAA tournament in full swing, March is an exciting time for college basketball fans. One injury no fan wants their favorite player to suffer is an ACL tear. Here, NEBH orthopedic surgeon Thomas Wuerz, MD, MSc, MS, looks at ACL injuries in basketball players.

After the foot and ankle, the knee is the most common site of injuries for basketball players. ACL injuries are often caused by changing direction quickly, stopping suddenly, slowing down while running, landing incorrectly from a jump, and direct contact or collision. Movements of the knee that result in a tear are often described as a hyperextension injury (the knee straightens beyond its normal fully straightened position) or a pivoting injury (excessive inward turning of the lower leg).

Background on the ACL
The ACL is one of four major ligaments that work to stabilize and support the knee. It prevents the shin bone (tibia) from moving too far forward on the thigh bone (femur), and it limits the rotational movement of the knee.

In basketball, the pivoting, jumping and landing, and sharp changes in direction to out-maneuver a player are often the cause of ACL injuries. Interestingly, female athletes incur ACL injuries more frequently than males, likely because of physical and hormonal differences.

Injuries to the ACL
Injuries to the ACL are serious: most ACL injuries result in a partial or complete tear of the ligament and particularly for competitive athletes require surgery to repair. Acute ACL injuries are often associated with injuries to the medial collateral ligament and meniscal injuries and these frequently require surgical repair as well. After surgery, it can take a basketball player six months to 9 months or up to a year to make a full recovery and return to play.

When a player injures their ACL, they might feel a “popping sensation” in their knee with subsequent swelling. Additionally, their knee may feel unstable, and become too painful to bear weight. If ignored, the swelling and pain may resolve on its own. However, if they attempt to return to basketball, their knee will probably be unstable and risk causing further damage to the cushioning joint cartilage and/or meniscus of the knee.

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