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Preventing ACL Injuries Through Screenings

What is the ACL?

ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament. It is one of the main ligaments of the knee, and prevents the shin bone from sliding out in front of the thigh bone.

Symptoms of ACL injury

An injury to the ACL happens when the ligament is over-stretched or torn. A tear may be partial or complete. These injuries can occur if you:

  • Are hit very hard in the side of your knee
  • Overextend the knee joint
  • Quickly stop moving and change direction while running, landing from a jump or turning

Symptoms often include a popping sound at the time of injury, followed by swelling and pain. Your knee may also feel unstable.

Preventing injury

A simple way to screen for possible potential ACL injury risk factors is looking at the way you stop after a sprint or land from a jump. 

Have someone stand in front of you and if possible record your movement with a video camera.  They should watch for any medial or lateral shift in your knee position when you stop their running motion or when you land from a jump. 

Also be aware if the knee is rigid or bends on foot impact.  Many ACL tears occur when an athlete lands with a locked extended knee. 

Another important factor is trunk or core control of upper body.  Poor trunk control can also be a risk factor for multiple sports injuries.


Treatment will include physical therapy, which is offered at Hall Health Center. Surgery may also be recommended to repair the ligament.

Additional resources

Listen to this podcast from the American Journal of Sports Medicine on prevention and recovery from ACL injuries (you'll need to be at a UW computer or enable your UW proxy)

Check out this video on screening for ACL risk factors in female athletes