The words basketball and knees are something of a curse in the world of women's hoops. A competitive woman basketball player is three to five times as likely to tear the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, the A.C.L., as her male counterpart. A.C.L. tears in women's basketball and other sports, such as soccer, are "more than just a sports medicine problem," Dr. Edward Wojtys, the director of sports medicine at the University of Michigan, told "The New York Times." "It's becoming a public health problem." Whether you're a WNBA star or a once-per-week rec league hoopster, you'll want to strengthen your knees to prevent an A.C.L. tear that might curtail your hoop dreams.
In terms of preventing basketball knee injuries, you have to pay particular attention to your ankles, according to basketball strength and conditioning coach Alan Stein at the STACK website. "Weak, immobile ankles cause additional stress on the knees when landing and running." Workouts to strengthen your ankles and knees and help prevent injury include a balance hold -- standing on one leg and raising the knee to where your thigh is parallel to the floor. Other good exercises include squats, lunges, touching your palm to the floor while balancing on one leg and one-legged squats. Stein recommends doing these exercises barefoot or wearing socks.
In addition to exercises that promote knee stability, such as squats, trainer Scott Salwasser at the STACK website recommends a number of hamstring exercises, since stronger hammies also take pressure off your knees. One such stretch is a physioball ham curl. Lie on your back with your feet on the physio ball. Drive your feet into the ball and elevate your hips into a bridge position. Flex your knees and hips to roll the ball toward your butt until your feet are lined up under your knees. Then slowly return to the starting position.
Jumping and Landing
Most serious knee injuries occur when a player lands incorrectly after running or jumping. If you land and allow your legs to collapse inward, or land stiff-legged or knock-kneed, you put extra stress on your knee ligaments. Practice landing with your knees and hips bent to better absorb the shock of impact, while keeping your upper body upright. However, given the constant twists, turns, stops and starts in basketball, you can't expect to land correctly every time. That's why a strong and flexible lower body, from your feet to your hips, is necessary to protect your knees.
Knee Workouts for Elite Athletes
At the University of Connecticut, a leading powerhouse in women's college basketball, a sophisticated program is in place to help prevent knee injuries. During preseason, players are videotaped performing a jump-motion test to determine their A.C.L. tear risk. Individual programs are drawn up to correct any biomechanical flaws. Players are schooled to use their hamstrings more and quads less, and to bend at the hips and knees to land softly by keeping their knees behind their toes and hitting the ground toe to heel.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.