Exercise Based ACL & Knee Ligament Injury Prevention | Modern Manual Therapy Blog - Manual Therapy, Videos, Neurodynamics, Podcasts, Research Reviews

Exercise Based ACL & Knee Ligament Injury Prevention


In 2018 Arundale, Bizzini, Giordano et al published a CPG reviewing the current injury prevention programs for ACL and knee ligament injuries. The results were extremely positive and state that “there is strong evidence for the benefits of exercise-based knee injury prevention programs, including reduction in risk for all knee injuries and for ACL injuries specifically, with little risk of adverse events and minimal cost” (Arundale, Bizzini, Giordano et al., 2018, p. A7).

Prior to researching this blog, I was aware that many injury prevention programs existed, but not clear on what the ideal warm up should include. This blog covers the construct of the most strongly supported programs available as well as two excellent video examples for clinician and patient reference.

As physiotherapists, we often come across patients who are interested in learning more about dynamic warm up exercises that assist in injury prevention. I think we all know there is a lot of information around this topic but it was refreshing to come across a CPG that outlines the ideal components of prevention programs and will now become the basis for my clinical recommendations moving forward.


  • Clinicians should be recommending the use of exercise-based knee injury prevention programs in athletes for prevention of knee and ACL injuries.
  • Injury prevention programs should be implemented prior to training sessions or games i.e. as the warm up.
  • The programs that are most effective require the participant to be active and move and include multiple components of proximal and distal strength, core strength, balance, flexibility, running, plyometrics and agility.
  • All knee injuries count! Knee-injuries were defined as “any joint pathology including damage to the joint (patellofemoral and/or tibiofemoral), ligaments, meniscus, or patella tendon.” (Arundale, Bizzini, Giordano et al., 2018, p. A3)
  • This CPG identifies 3 high risk populations and outlines the different programs most suited for each:
    • Female athletes <18 years of age
      • PEP, Sportsmetric, Kn√§kontroll, Harmoknee, Olsen et al, Petersen et al (ACL injuries)
    • Soccer players, especially women
      • PEP, Kn√§kontroll, Harmoknee (knee ligament injuries)
      • Caraffa et al, Sportsmetric (ACL injuries)
    • Male and female handball players, particularly 15-17 years of age
      • Olsen et al, Achenbach et al (knee ligament injuries)
  • For all programs, the recommendation is that they should involve multiple components, have a session duration >20 minutes, have a weekly training volume >30 minutes, start at pre-season and continue throughout the season with high compliance.
  • The most supported programs involved multiple components such as
    • Flexibility - quads, hamstrings, hip adductors, hip flexors, & calf muscles
    • Strengthening - double-leg squat, single-leg squat, lunges, nordic hamstring exercises
    • Plyometrics - single leg hopping anterior & posterior, ice skaters, jump to header or catching a ball overhead
    • Balance & agility
    • Running - forward & backwards, zigzag running, bounding forward & backwards
    • Core - prone plank & bridges

Image courtesy of the JOSPT perspective for patients

This CPG actually provides strong evidence to suggest that exercise-based prevention programs reduce the risk of all knee injuries, not just ACL injuries. “The pooled incident rate ratio indicated that exercise-based prevention programs are effective in reducing the incidence of knee injuries (0.73, 95% confidence interval)” (Arundale, Bizzini, Giordano et al., 2018, p. A7). For ACL specifically, the programs are also effective in reducing injury but the pooled ratio rate is lower ranging between 0.38-0.49.

This information within this CPG includes all knee injuries, not just ACL injuries. The evidence and recommendations from this CPG should be used to educate and support coaches, parents, athletes and clinicians to incorporate exercise-based injury prevention programs into their training methods. It seems really important to ensure that this message reaches our young female athletes as they have been identified within each high risk population.

Even though 3 high risk populations were identified, these recommendations should be implemented for all young athletes, particularly 12-25 years of age in high risk sports such as rugby, AFL, netball, soccer, basketball and skiing.

Below are two videos for court and field sports which have been curated and published by the JOSPT and provide a holistic program consistent with the recommendations of this CPG.

Recommended warm-up exercise sequence for athletes preparing to compete in field sports, such as soccer, football, lacrosse, field hockey, and softball. Based on the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Exercise-Based Knee and Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Prevention, published in the September 2018 issue of JOSPT.

Recommended warm-up exercise sequence for athletes preparing to compete in court sports, such as basketball, tennis, volleyball, racquetball, squash, and handball. Based on the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Exercise-Based Knee and Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Prevention, published in the September 2018 issue of JOSPT.

A key benefit from this CPG is that they provide a decision making tree and specifically list the programs for all knee injuries and ACL injuries. For each article they provide the contents of the program, links to full articles, full reference list and the outline of each article. This allows the reader to broaden their understanding of the programs without having to hunt for the original source.

Image from CPG decision making tree https://www.orthopt.org/uploads/content_files/files/Knee%20Injury%20Decision%20Tree%20Figures%281%29.pdf

Fifa 11, Harmoknee, PEP and Sportsmetric are the big fish. Each have their own websites, training programs and resource materials. They also provide sport-specific detail on their website and have video content. But what you might see in the table below is that no single program includes it all and from the CPG, that no single program was recommended as the number 1 program to follow.

Below is a brief outline of the key programs presented in this CPG and useful links for further information. In the CPG, there is an outline of dosage of each exercise which is not included in this outline. 

FIFA 11+
  • Flexibility: Calf stretch, quadricep stretch, groin stretch, hamstring stretch, hip flexor stretch
  • Running: jogging cone to cone, shuttle running, backward running, shuttle run forward and backwards, diagonal run, bounding
  • Strength: walking lunge, Russian hamstring, single leg calf raise
  • Plyometrics: lateral hops over cones, forward and backward jumps over cones, single leg hops over cone, vertical jumps over headers, scissor jumps

  • Flexibility: Gastrocnemius and soleus, quad, hamstring, groin, hip flexor, lats, posterior deltoid and pecs.
  • Running: skipping, side shuffle and running
  • Strength: back hyperextension, leg press, calf raise, pull over, bench press, Lat dorsi pull down, forearm curl.
  • Core strength: abdominal curl
  • Plyometrics: wall jumps, tuck jumps, broad jumps with stick landing, squat jumps, double leg cone jumps side to side, back to front and 180 degrees, bounding in place, vertical jumps bounding for distance, scissor jumps, hop, hop and stick landing, step jump up vertical, mattress jumps, single leg jumps for distance, jump into bounding
  • Flexibility: Standing calf stretch, standing quadricep stretch, half-kneeling hamstring stretch, half-kneeling hip flexor stretch, butterfly groin stretch and modified figure-four stretch
  • Jogging: jogging, backwards jogging on toe, high knee skipping, defensive pressure (zig zig backwards), alternate forward zig zag and backward zig zag running
  • Strength: lunges, Nordic hamstring strengthening and single leg squat with toe raise
  • Core stability: sit ups, plank on elbows and bridging
  • Plyometrics: forward and backward double leg jumps, lateral single leg jumps, forward and backward single leg jumps, double leg jump with or without the ball

In summary, there is no single program to recommend as the best exercise-based injury prevention program and there are many valuable resources available online to help implement such programs into training. Overall, there is strong evidence to suggest these programs are highly effective in injury prevention for all knee injuries. As clinicians, we play an important role in sharing this valuable information with coaches, parents and athletes, to change the way our youth are training and in the hope to reduce injury rates.

To successfully complete these prevention programs requires time and dedication. Realistically there might be as much time spent in warm up as there is in sport-specific training. But the benefits are clear and this message is important to share. This CPG reinforces how important it is for us to teach our young athletes that these warms ups are the foundation for safe training and game play and to reduce the risk of injury, it is not an area we should compromise on. In fact, it might be the most valuable part of attending training and in the long run and keep people in the sport they love for longer.

via Sian Smale

Sian Smale is an Australian-trained Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist. Sian completed her Bachelor of Physiotherapy through La Trobe University in 2009 and in 2013 was awarded a Masters in Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy through Melbourne University. Since graduating from her Masters program, Sian has been working in a Private Practice setting and writing a Physiotherapy Blog "Rayner & Smale". Prior to moving to San Francisco, Sian worked at Physical Spinal and Physiotherapy Clinic and has a strong background in manual therapy and management of spinal spine, headaches and sports injuries. Since moving to the Bay area, Sian has become a Physiotherapist for the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, traveling with their Para Alpine teams. 

twitter @siansmale


Arundale, A. J., Bizzini, M., Giordano, A., Hewett, T. E., Logerstedt, D. S., Mandelbaum, B., ... & Beattie, P. (2018). Exercise-Based Knee and Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Prevention: Clinical Practice Guidelines Linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health From the Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy and the American Academy of Sports Physical Therapy. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 48(9), A1-A42.

Decision making tree for exercise-based injury prevention programs

JOSPT perspective for patients

Program guide

Mandelbaum, B. R., Silvers, H. J., Watanabe, D. S., Knarr, J. F., Thomas, S. D., Griffin, L. Y., ... & Garrett Jr, W. (2005). Effectiveness of a neuromuscular and proprioceptive training program in preventing anterior cruciate ligament injuries in female athletes: 2-year follow-up. The American journal of sports medicine, 33(7), 1003-1010.



Hewett, T. E., Lindenfeld, T. N., Riccobene, J. V., & Noyes, F. R. (1999). The effect of neuromuscular training on the incidence of knee injury in female athletes. The American journal of sports medicine, 27(6), 699-706.


Kiani, A., Hellquist, E., Ahlqvist, K., Gedeborg, R., & Byberg, L. (2010). Prevention of soccer-related knee injuries in teenaged girls. Archives of internal medicine, 170(1), 43-49.

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