The Best Way To Prevent Knee Injuries

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J.J. Hickson, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose—the list of knee injury suffers in the NBA goes on. However, at least one type of knee injury can be easily prevented.
 
 
Photo: Mauricio Giraldo/Creative Commons

The American Academy for Orthopaedic Surgeons in New Orleans has presented a new study that, among other things, reinforces that one of the most effective ways to prevent ligament tears is a specific, yet simple, series of exercises. The authours originally set out to detail how much money big leagues can save if they invested in widespread prevention of ACL tears, a common injury for athletes.

What they found was that not only are the costs associated with treating an ACL tear astronomical—$15,000 for the average surgery, not counting lost play time and TV ratings—but the incidence of such an injury can be nearly halved for athletes participating in neuromuscular training, or exercises that teach players how to land, change directions and move during play. The simple on-court exercises can reduce injury prevalence to a mere 1.5 per cent of athletes, and can be done at negligible cost.

This is great news for the NBA’s bottom line, and even better for the average athlete. Here are some ways to keep your knee kicking for the long haul, based on the PEP (Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance) program from the Santa Monica Sports Medicine Foundation. We took the best parts and tuned them up for a basketball player, but you can see the full workout here.

The warm up
Poor running technique is a killer on the knees, which makes large muscle warm ups necessary to ingrain good habits. Concentrating on keeping the knees flexed, perform two full-court jogs, two full-court shuttle runs (while sidestepping) and two full-court backwards runs. Don’t rest up in between sets to keep the blood flowing, preparing your muscles for stretching exercises.

Stretches
Good stretching before play is step one for preventing injuries of all varieties. To focus on your knees’ health, make sure you don’t bounce or thrust your muscles as you stretch. You’ll want to perform the following for 30 seconds on each leg:

  • Quadriceps Support yourself with one arm against a wall. Using your free hand, pull your heel to your buttock, keeping your posture straight until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.
  • Hamstrings Seated on the court, extend one leg in front of you. Bend the other leg to couch your foot in your inner thigh. Keeping your back straight, attempt to touch your toes to stretch your hamstring.
  • Inner thighs From a seated position, spread your legs apart evenly and reach ahead of you while keeping your back straight until you feel a stretch. Then, reach to either side for an additional 30 seconds each.

Strength
Strength can be increased through basic bodyweight exercises that mimic play out on the court, conditioning your body to perform them well. You’ll want to hit your three main leg muscle groups: the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Walking lunges are by far the simplest (and most effective) bodyweight exercise for your upper legs. Your hamstrings can be strengthened with donkey kicks—from a planking position on knees and elbows, engage your hamstrings, glutes and hips by “kicking” one leg backwards and high as you can, squeezing at the top. Calves are best engaged with one-legged toe raises.

Jumping stability
This part of the program builds up explosive power, strength and speed with plyometric drills. Being mindful of landing softly for these jumping exercises will help you master your muscles so they react accordingly during play out on the court. For the first 20 reps, jump side to side over a cone, bending your knee upon landings. Likewise, perform the jumps backward and forward over the cone for another 20. Up the ante by repeating the previous exercise on one foot. This will be much harder, but focus on slow, soft landings. Repeat it on the other foot.

Gameplay agility
The final part of the foundation’s program aims to train your knee for real-life situations that you may encounter during gameplay.Three shuttle runs start the drill. Set two parallel lines of staggered markers 10 yards apart so that when you run between markers on opposite sides, you’ll run in a diagonal pattern. Complete the drill by running between the markers in a zig zag from left to right, maintaining the direction you are facing so that you run forward then backward. Using the same marker formation, run facing forward between the markers. As you hit each turning point, use your inside foot to pivot by bending your knee slightly. Finally, cap off the drills with a high-knee run from one end of the court to the other. 

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