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How You Jump and Land Matters

Many sports involve jumping and landing.  In some sports like basketball and volleyball, your ability to jump high is a deeply valued skill and will help you excel.  Every jump and land is an opportunity for injury, which is why at Compete Sports Performance and Rehab, you'll often see our Strength Coaches working with young athletes on their landing mechanics, whether it's with both legs or single leg lands. 

First, let's discuss what the injury risks are.  Any time you land a jump, your body must absorb what's called your Ground Reactive Force or GRF.  This is a force that the earth directs back in the opposite direction that your body was moving before landing (Newton's Third Law).  The direction of this force plays a role, as well as how we control our bodies upon landing.  The force increases based on the height of the jump and your body mass.  Common landing injuries include foot & ankle sprains, knee sprains (landing is a common ACL injury mechanism), fractures, and back injuries, among others. 

Going back to the GRF.  If we do a "hard" landing, where we keep our ankles, knees and hips rigid, we greatly increase the amount of force that's transmitted through each joint and up through our spine.  This isn't good for our bodies and should be avoided. The safe approach is to absorb portions of the GRF with each joint by flexing and using our muscles to take on that force.  This means we land and let our ankles flex, our knees bend and our hips hinge while keeping our torso upright.  We call this a "soft" landing.  The other important factor is the direction of the force, which plays a bigger role in single leg landing.  If we land awkwardly or change direction while in the air (which happens often in sports), we may land slightly off balance.  If our upper body tilts to the side, we'll land on that same leg and cause the GRF to transmit outside the knee, forcing the knee to collapse inward.  This is the ACL injury mechanism mentioned before (see picture).  But this happens all the time in sports.  How can we prevent injuries?  The keys are to have strong glutes (gluteus medius, specifically) which can limit how far the thigh moves inward.  A strong, stable core will also helps  to control our upper body movement when reacting in sports.  Strong quadriceps and flexible ankles also help ensure that more often than not, we land with our joints in-line, under control, allowing our muscles to safely absorb the landing force.  This safe landing is key in sports where athletes need to be ready to move again quickly after a jump.  At Compete Sports Performance and Rehab, we'll work with our jumping athletes on their lower body and core strength, and teach them how to execute these movements correctly to keep them safe.

Michael Metcalfe is a certified Athletic Trainer at Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Lake Forest, CA. Michael received his Masters from Cal State Fullerton and spent five seasons as an Athletic Trainer in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim minor league system.