Liverpool's Martin Kelly fell foul to one of the most frequent injuries in professional sports today.

LAST week Liverpool and England defender Martin Kelly was ruled out until March after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – the deadly disease of football.

The 22-year-old requires a ‘full ACL reconstruction’ according to a statement from the club, but Kelly needn’t worry because he won’t be lonely in the ACL operating theatre.  

Only seven games into the Premier League, but already this season six players have been ruled out because of the ACL injury; Emmanuel Frimpong (Arsenal), Andy Johnson (QPR), Mahamadou Diarra (Fulham), Gary Gardner (Aston Villa), and Ryan Taylor (Newcastle) have all fallen victim to the knee ligament injury.

According to physioroom.com there are currently 76 Premier League stars sidelined and 8 per cent of which are specifically down to ACL injuries.  

But it’s not a new issue.  Ruud van Nistelrooy initially had his £18m move to Manchester United axed because of a ruptured cruciate knee ligament in training -- although he did recover to join the Red Devils and became one of the deadliest poachers in the game.  

Stoke City forward and former England international Michael Owen has seen his career blighted by issues that he blames on his ACL.   

The 32-year-old said that fateful game in 2006 against Sweden during the World Cup -- where Owen crumpled to the ground in the opening minutes -- proved to be the root of many of his injury problems; the striker has never really been the same since.

                                                                        ACL tear (image courtesy of sportsphysio.co.uk)

When ACL injuries occur, according to sportsphysio.co.uk, it is ‘when bones of the leg twist in the opposite directions under full body weight’.  As a sufferer myself, I can tell you it is not a nice feeling when your knee cap is on the side of where it should be.

For the average person, an ACL injury would mean between eight and 12 months on the sidelines and without surgery will always prove a considerable risk for the player in the future.  

However for high-level professional athletes it isn’t only their wages that aren’t average; surgery and an intensive schedule of physiotherapy sees the majority back playing in six months. 

Italian cult hero Roberto Baggio – probably best known for his pony tail and that penalty miss in the ’94 World Cup final – had reconstructive surgery on his knee after a complete tear of the ACL.  

The 35-year-old hoped to push for a final World Cup appearance in the 2002 season but had just 135 days to be fit if he was to make the cut.  Incredibly he returned to playing professional football within 77 days, managing a full 90 minutes after just 90 days.

Sadly a fairytale ending for Baggio was denied after Giovanni Trapattoni considered him not to be fully fit, much to the dismay of Italian fans.  Post-surgery Baggio went on to play 62 Serie A games and score 26 times.

It is incredible to see the number of players who have suffered from the ACL tear.  Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne, Robert Pirez, Nemanja Vidic, Alessandro Del Piero, Robbie Fowler, Joe Cole, Luis Garcia, Phil Jagielka, Xavi are all part of the list that Martin Kelly adds his name to.

However despite the increasing cost for clubs in keeping injured players (the cost was £81.3m in the 2007 season) there seems to be little improvement on the issue for Premier League players. 

The stats from physioroom.com indicate that 30 per cent of injuries in the 2004 season were ligament based and three years on it had hardly changed by 2007/2008.  

One of the biggest arguments since ACL injuries where thrust into the limelight has been the considerable level of risk in wearing blades as opposed to studded boots.  However university research into the topic in 2007 by Kaili and Gehring found no conclusion evidence to suggest one was better than the other. 

Probably a fair assessment when you think ACL injuries aren’t limited to just football.

With very little solid evidence to provide a guide on how to prevent the injury the attack of the ACL nightmare is one that we may just see lurking around for many more seasons.  For Kelly, this one is over and he will have to start all over again next season.