According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high school athletes account for about 2 million injuries and around a half-million doctor visits each year. But few of these injuries, says Encinitas Physical Therapist Karen Turner-Schlegel, are as costly to an athlete as a torn ACL.

“An ACL tear in the knee will often lead to surgery and months of rehabilitation”, said Karen.  “Often, I’ll see many of these athletes during post-surgery rehabilitation, but I’d much rather see them before that when our goal is preventing this all too common injury from happening in the first place”.

One of four major ligaments in the knee, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a band of tissue that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. An estimated 200,000 ACL injuries are reported in the U.S. each year, most commonly among athletes.

According to studies, women and girls are most susceptible to an ACL injury playing soccer, while men and boys are more likely to experience an ACL injury while playing football. Despite occurring so often within aggressive contact sports, most ACL tears are non-contact injuries.

“You have an athlete plant their foot to quickly change direction, then suddenly, the ACL tears”, said Karen. Basically, their knee turns one way and their body goes the other.

Over the years, Karen has worked with countless athletes post-surgery whose rehabilitation has led to successful outcomes. But, she is eager to stress the importance of taking steps to prevent such injuries from happening in the first place.

In doing so, Karen stresses the importance of four things to athletes of all ages:

Stretching: The flexibility of hamstrings, quads and gluteal muscles is beneficial in preventing knee injuries.

Strength: Having good muscle integrity, especially in the hips and thighs, can put an athlete on a good track toward preventing such injuries to the knees.

A Good Warm-Up: It’s well-known that the lack of a good warmup can lead to injury, and this is certainly the case with ACL injuries. Without the right amount of blood flow, the muscles can’t react quickly enough when an athlete cuts and pivots, opening the door to injury.

Exercise Balance: In terms of exercise, it is important that athletes focus on all aspects of training: Strength, endurance and flexibility. Focusing on all three equally creates optimal stability in your body.

According to Karen, Physical Therapists are specifically trained to identify weaknesses and imbalances in the body, focusing on injury prevention. She is able to provide athletes with a full movement analysis, then provide them with individualized training regimens meant to promote optimal health and performance.