How *not* to tear your ACL when celebrating

It’s never easy to see an athlete go down with a major injury. But this past weekend, the sports blog-o-sphere seemed unable to help itself as it engaged in a rambunctious bout of schadenfreude.

In the fourth quarter of a humiliating drubbing at the hands of the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston broke through (unblocked) and sacked the Patriot’s backup quarterback.

Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston suffers a season-ending ACL injury after celebrating a sack

Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston suffers a season-ending ACL injury after celebrating a sack

Houston celebrated this sack, his first of the season, by leaping into the air. Upon landing, he promptly tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, one of the major ligaments of the knee). He now faces six months to a year of rehabilitation.

Remarkably, Houston’s celebration and injury almost perfectly mirrored the ACL injury suffered by Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch as he celebrated a defensive play a little more than a month ago.

These injuries got us thinking, so we asked orthopedic sports surgeon J. Martin Leland, MD:

How did these finely tuned professional athletes hurt themselves so badly from a simple celebration?

J. Martin Leland, MD, Orthopedic Sports Medicine Surgeon

J. Martin Leland, MD, Orthopedic Sports Medicine Surgeon

J. Martin Leland: Sports, on any level but particularly at the professional level, is a very exciting and adrenaline-driven activity. Athletes can be very enthusiastic after a successful accomplishment in sport, and I completely understand the feeling of wanting to celebrate when one is happy for a good play or team win. However, any time you play a sport, there’s a risk of injury – whether it’s during a big play or after when celebrating.

The celebration technique that Houston and Tulloch utilized is particularly bad because of their terrible landing technique. When you land from a jump, your knees should be directly over your feet.

Houston and Tulloch land with their knees closer together than their feet are. Anyone that lands in that position is at risk of an ACL tear. In medical terms, it’s a rotational valgus deformity of the knee. In order to achieve that position, you have to rotate your knee, and that puts a lot of force on the ACL when landing.

bilateralvalgus2Currently, one of the biggest topics in ACL research is preventing injury, particularly in teenage female athletes, who have highest risk. It’s been found that teaching women athletes to land with their knees directly over their feet, coupled with neuromuscular training, can cut the risk of an ACL injury in half.

It’s a very simple message: Do not land with knees inside of feet.

In addition, these injuries happened while celebrating after a big play. Most likely their muscles are already tired, and they’re forcing their bodies to do something that’s high demand – the muscles aren’t fresh and are not going to function at 100 percent, which increases risk for injury.

As far as excessive celebration is concerned, not only is it unsportsmanlike, you can injure yourself. I can understand the achievement, adrenaline and excitement an athlete can feel, but in order to be true sportsmen you need to limit your reaction and prevent potential injury.

Soccer megastar Cristiano Ronaldo demonstrates the proper landing form for a celebration

Although soccer megastar Cristiano Ronaldo has his knees over his feet correctly, excessive celebration is never “good form.”

EDIT (10/29/2014, 3:04PM): As pointed out by Reddit user Cyfa, this is how Derrick Rose tore his ACL in 2012. “I would say about 50 percent of ACL tears come from that,” Leland said.

About Kevin Jiang (147 Articles)
Kevin Jiang is a Science Writer and Media Relations Specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine. He focuses on neuroscience and neurosurgery, orthopedics, psychology, genetics, biology, evolution, biomedical and basic science research.
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