Athletes can avoid injuries by not leaning the opposite way when changing direction, Australian researchers say.
Researchers at The University of Western Australia have found the risk of injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is increased by particular techniques of direction change.
Advertisement"Athletes should not use techniques which involve leaning or turning their body in the opposite direction to where they want to end up, or placing their foot a long way from the body," says biomechanist Alasdair Dempsey from the School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health. "These body postures are often what you see when an athlete suffers an ACL injury."
The findings of the research, supported by the Australian Football League (AFL), were published recently in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
ACL injuries can be severe and very debilitating. The standard treatment involves surgery followed by nine to 12 months of rehabilitation. After rupturing an ACL sufferers are at increased risk of re-injuring it later in life, as well as developing arthritis in their knees.
ACL injuries often occur without the injured athlete coming into contact with another player or piece of equipment. This indicates an athlete can make changes to sidestepping, which may reduce their risk of injury.
ACL injuries can be high profile—such as that of Sydney Swans AFL footballer Nick Malceski or Michael Owen at the 2006 FIFA World Cup—but they occur right down to the grass roots level.
According to the AFL Injury Report: Season 2007 there were 11 new ACL injuries among AFL-listed players last year. "If this number is scaled up to all Australian rules footballers in the country, and you assume that similar rates occur in soccer, basketball, netball and other team sports, then we are looking at a large number of ACL injuries each year," says Alasdair.
Based on measurements of the loads experienced at the knee, the researchers identified dangerous techniques. Then they tested athletes before and after six weeks of training to change their method of sidestepping to try to reduce the loads on the knee.
"We have incorporated these results into a training program which, in conjunction with the University of Ballarat, is now being tested on Australian rules footballers in Victoria and Western Australia," Alasdair says. "The work will provide us with more information on the impact of such training on knee forces, as well as on the number of injuries occurring."
Alasdair Dempsey is one of 16 early-career scientists chosen for Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Federal and Victorian governments.