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 Yorba Linda physical therapist Ruben Salinas, are as costly to a student-athlete and his or her family than a torn ACL.

“An ACL tear in the knee will often lead to surgery and months of rehabilitation,” said Salinas, owner of Salinas Physical Therapy / Sports Medicine in Yorba Linda. “Often, I’ll see many of these student-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 on the soccer pitch, while men and boys are more likely to experience an ACL injury while playing football. Despite occurring so often within aggressive contact sports, 70% of ACL tears are non-contact injuries.

While non-contact injuries cannot be avoided a good understanding how they happen can help prevent them. “Typical mechanisms involve a-stop deceleration, cutting change of direction, landing from a jump with hips and knees too extended,” said Salinas. “Essentially, their knee turns one way, and their body goes the other. You’ll see this in soccer and football, but also sports like basketball, gymnastics, skiing, and so on.”

Over the years, Salinas and the physical therapy team at Salinas Physical Therapy /Sports Medicine have worked with countless athlete’s post-surgery whose rehabilitation has led to successful outcomes. But Salinas is eager to stress the importance of taking steps to prevent such injuries from happening in the first place. ACL injury prevention programs have been shown to lower the risk of injury 60-89%.

In doing so, Salinas has developed an ACL injury prevention program which stresses the importance of four things to athletes of all ages:

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

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

Dynamic stability: This is probably the most critical aspect of prevention. Plyometric or jump training should emphasize proper landing. Landing soft and using the hips and knees and controlling the inward motion of the knee should be stressed. Proper technique and practice are essential. It is vital that athletes focus on all aspects of training: strength, flexibility, and dynamic stability. Focusing on all equally creates optimal stability in your body.

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

According to Salinas, physical therapists are specially trained to identify weaknesses and imbalances in the body, then correct them with an eye toward both injury prevention and optimal athletic performance. The team at Salinas can provide athletes with a full movement analysis, then create them individualized training regimens meant to promote optimal health and performance.