Q and A with Trent Nessler – ACL Injuries and the ACL Play it Safe Program

Posted on 10/19/2017 by NovaCare Rehabilitation and Select Physical Therapy

 

Play It SafeOne of the most devastating injuries in sports today is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. We sat down with Trent Nessler, P.T., MPT, DPT, national director of sports medicine innovation, to ask him a few questions regarding ACL injuries and his exclusive evidenced-based ACL Play it Safe Program.

What are three measures that can be taken to prevent ACL injury?
If you were going to break it down into three measures, these would be:

Education – Almost 80 percent of ACL injuries are non-contact in orientation. This means there is no contact with another player or structure, but typically result from a rapid change in direction or jumping motion. There are certain movement patterns that put an athlete at greater risk for these non-contact injuries. Using a baseline movement screening process is critical to identifying those at risk. The results should further guide training that can be implemented throughout the season to reduce the athlete’s risk of injury.

It is also imperative for athletes, coaches and parents to understand that when you address movements that are associated with non-contact ACL injuries, they see a significant impact on their on-field athletic performance. The knee abduction that occurs not only puts excessive stress on the ACL and structures of the knee, but also results in a significant loss of kinetic energy transfer from the lower limb, hips to the core. This loss of energy has a direct impact on vertical jump, sprint speed, explosive power and pitching velocities.

Movement Assessments – There are many movement assessments on the market today. Although some have become the standard of practice in our industry, the fact that we are still depending on the eyeball to score the majority of these assessments introduces a tremendous amount of subjectivity into the equation. Three-dimensional technology, complete with cameras and wearable sensors, however, are removing the subjectivity from the equation and allowing for improved reliability.

Training – Many good injury prevention programs out there have been shown to reduce injury rates in athletes. However, the challenge is the adoption of these programs as a standard part of an athletic program or season has been very low. Why is that? If the program takes too long, then teams, coaches and athlete are less likely to do it. Knowing that these programs improve movement and movement efficiency, we should be promoting the impact on sports performance versus injury prevention. Approaching a coach or athlete with an effective and proven 20-minute program that helps to improve their sprint speed and vertical jump will cause the adoption rate to become much higher.

Technology is an ever-changing industry, and ACL injuries are a prevalent occurrence. How do the two go together and benefit patients?
One of the most exciting trends we are seeing today is the adoption of 3D wearable sensor technologies. These can and are having a huge impact on ACL injuries. The technology inside a 3D wearable sensor is what’s called an inertial measurement unit (IMU). An IMU detects and records motion, rotation and acceleration data. We now use these for movement assessments in our athletes to detect degree of knee abduction and the speed at which it occurs within a very high degree of accuracy. In addition, this becomes a much more efficient and reliable way to measure movement that puts athletes at risk for injury and performance issues. This is a huge step in ACL prevention! For the first time ever, we are collecting movement data with technology and combining it with demographic data for every athlete assessed.

Aside from use of IMUs in assessment, it can be used in training. We are in the process of leveraging this same technology to track movement during single limb training. This will not only give the athlete immediate feedback on how they are moving, but will identify those athletes at risk during their training. This information could be used to refer them to a provider for a more extensive movement assessment and treatment. This would expand the scope of ability to identify athletes at risk beyond just those who have a physical or who see a health care provider.

You developed a nationally recognized non-operative ACL program – the ACL Play it Safe Program – to decrease the likelihood of injury and enhance athletic performance. What sets this program apart from others and how can folks learn more about it?
Trent ACL 2As a result of numerous researchers’ hard work and the influence of great mentors, the development of the ACL Play it Safe Program was made possible. The things that set this program apart are:

The ACL Play It Safe program is specifically designed to improve performance on the movements that are assessed with the ViPerform Athletic Movement Index (AMI). So, athletes can be assigned to the level of the program based on an assessment.
The program has four distinct levels of progression; level one for athletes who don’t move very well, all the way up to level IV for athletes who move efficiently.
This program has a pre-practice routine that takes five minutes and a post-practice routine that takes 15 minutes. The post-practice routine is a fatigue-based training routine. This is where fatigue from practice is carried over in the post-practice routine. From a training specificity standpoint, we find that training in a fatigued state has better carry over to later in the game when performance issues are likely to arise and injuries rates increase.
Each athlete is given a kit that has standardized equipment in it. This prevents them from using different types of equipment or variations in resistance from training session to training session, allowing for more consistency in the progression.
The program offers a video instruction of each exercise that can be accessed on the complimentary ACL Play It Safe app. This ensures there is no error or change in interpretation of the exercise from athletic trainer to coach to athlete.
So far, this program has been implemented with more than 3,000 athletes across the country. We are using this as a part of their rehabilitation and return-to-play. When implemented correctly and with the ViPerform AMI, we are seeing an average of 58.2 percent reduction in lower extremity injuries from the spine to the foot and ankle.

For more information on this program, folks can email me directly at [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you!