4 Risk Factors for ACL Injuries That You Need to Know

Shaun Suisham just lost his position as a place kicker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The culprit? A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Suisham tore his ACL nearly a year ago during a preseason game, and sat out the 2015 season. He was released from the Steelers on June 24 after failing a physical.

The risk for ACL tears increases if an athlete plays agility sports, sustains a direct hit to the outside of the knee, or is female. Risk of a tear also increases with age. See Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tears

Stories like Suisham’s are all too common. More than 200,000 ACL injuries are reported each year, 1 Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury (ACL). University of California, San Francisco website. http://orthosurg.ucsf.edu/patient-care/divisions/sports-medicine/conditions/knee/anterior-cruciate-ligament-injury-acl/. Accessed June 24, 2016. with most occurring while athletes participate in sports such as basketball, soccer, and American football, among other agility sports. If you’re an athlete, read on to find out your risk of this possibly season and career-ending injury.


Are you at risk for an ACL injury?

Don’t become another statistic. Know your risk factors for ACL injuries. Examples include:

See ACL Tear Diagnosis

  1. Cutting, pivoting, and other movements associated with agility sports

    Most ACL injuries happen without contact and occur when an athlete is:

    • Twisting
    • Jumping
    • Cutting
    • Quickly stopping or decelerating

    These types of movements are common in sports like lacrosse, tennis, basketball, and American football.

  2. Female gender

    Female athletes playing sports involving jumping and pivoting are 2 to 10 times more likely to sustain a knee ligament injury, including an ACL one, than males. 2 Why women have an increased risk of ACL injury. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://www.aaos.org/AAOSNow/2010/Nov/research/research3/?ssopc=1. Accessed June 24, 2016. The reasons for this are not definitive, but some think hormones, biomechanics, and anatomy could be factors.

    See ACL Tear Treatment Options

  3. Contact to the outside of the knee

    While most ACL injuries occur without contact, there are times these injuries occur upon contact. A direct hit to your knee when your knee is slightly bent or hyperextended and your foot is planted could cause an ACL injury. In fact, Suisham tore his ACL when he went for a tackle.

  4. Age

    Most ACL tears occur between the ages of 15 and 45 because of the active lifestyle and inclination for sports participation. Since the ACL weakens with age, your risk of an ACL injury increases as you get older.

What will come of Suisham’s professional football career is unknown. Once you’ve had an ACL injury, however, you could have another. Some studies report the risk of re-tearing the repaired ACL is about 13%. 3 Myklebust G, Bahr R. Return to play guidelines after anterior cruciate ligament surgery. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005; 39: 127-131 doi:10.1136/bjsm.2004.010900. The first step towards injury prevention is knowing your risk factors.

See ACL Tear Prevention

Learn more:

IT Band Syndrome Treatment

Acute Hamstring Tears

Amy Haddad is a former Veritas Health editor. She developed content and wrote blogs about sports injuries, risk factors, and treatment options.