How can knee injuries during exercise be prevented?

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Answered by: Oli, An Expert in the Preventing Sports Injuries Category
Knee injuries are highly prevalent in sports requiring changes of direction and velocity. Knee injuries can be potentially devastating to the longevity of an athlete's career. Trauma to any of the major ligaments of the patella joint; most notably the anterior cruciate ligament, can compromise knee stability exposing the athlete to a whole host of secondary conditions down the line, including a degradation of cartilage resulting in arthritis. Injuries such as these may leave irreparable damage and ultimately, can cut an athlete down in their prime! These reasons provide a solid justification for why athletes should focus on maintaining the general health and proper functionality of their knees. A number of principles should be adhered to by athletes of all levels, ages and disciplines from around the globe in order to minimize the risk of knee injuries during exercise. Perhaps the most essential of all of these principles, is hydration. Water is key for the lubrication and proper nourishment of the joints of the human body. The synovial tissue of each of the body's connective joints, comprises of mostly water. With the demands of exercise, it is academic that with falling hydration levels these tissues can become dry and stiff, reducing the full range of motion at these joints; particularly the knee, as it bears the weight of the upper body! Second to this, as the protective cartilage of these joints lack significant blood-flow, the movement of water molecules via a process of osmosis is required to diffuse nourishing minerals such as glucosamine and chrondroitin, into the joint capsule. For these reasons it is imperative that an athlete maintain optimal hydration levels during exercise. Second to hydration athletes should also be aware of how to appropriately mitigate the risk of trauma to the knees. Stringent safety measures should be taken to prevent knee injuries during exercise. Athletes who participate in strength and conditioning programs should be aware of the risks of power training, including plyometric exercises, as well as the risks of performing compound lifts; particularly the barbell squat. It is advisable that due to the high force generating (and absorbing) nature of plyometric jump exercise, that athletes limit this exercise modality to only a couple of times a week. Furthermore athletes should never perform plymetric workouts on consecutive days. Regular rest days will not only ensure full recovery of the connective structures of the knee, but also will prevent over training and subsequent fatigue of the central nervous system. Both placing the knee under an excessive cumulative stress, as well as neuromuscular fatigue, will ultimately undermine any progress an athlete could hope to make through power based conditioning. Furthering this, it is paramount that athletes who regularly incorporate barbell squats into their strength and conditioning regimen, have sufficient prerequisite knowledge of the correct form for performing the barbell squat. The repercussions of knee injury instigated by incorrectly squatting; particularly whilst bearing a significant load, can lead to extensive injury to structural integrity of the knees! The risk of injury during a barbell squat is particularly pronounced during the concentric (push) phase of lift. Under the strain of increasing forces being exhibited through the core and lower body, athletes who are naive to the mandatory coaching points of the lift, may allow their knees to 'cave' inwards. This can place overwhelming pressure on both the lateral and medial ligaments of the knee. Any injury sustained during the barbell squat may be highly debilitating resulting in long-term morbidity. Coaches and physical education teachers, should seek to install knowledge of these core principles in athletes, during the developmental phases of physical learning and maturation.

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