Torn ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments) are becoming more common at earlier ages. Over the past decade, ACL injuries in young athletes are up by 63 percent, according to some experts. That’s partially due to year-round involvement in multiple sports that push young players harder than ever, increasing their exposure and risk for having a tear.
“There’s a safe way to do just about everything,” says George Gantsoudes, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Rather than discouraging athletic involvement, Gantsoudes says the risk for ACL tears can be reduced through preparation and awareness.
Here are some fast facts about who’s at risk and how kids can avoid unnecessary ACL injuries.
Children should stay in shape all year. “They shouldn’t just get up off the couch and start playing after a period of inactivity,” Gantsoudes says.
Girls have a higher risk than boys. Female athletes ages 15 to 20 have the highest incidence of ACL tears. Researchers think differences in anatomy, hormonal makeup, muscular imbalances and development patterns are factors in the increased risk for girls. For example, girls tend to have one leg that is stronger than the other, which changes the way they land.
Puberty is a peak time for ACL injuries, especially for girls. This may be due to the fact that girls increase in size and weight during puberty, but their power doesn’t increase proportionately, as it does for boys.
Some sports are riskier than others. Among the highest risk: girl soccer players. Basketball, lacrosse, volleyball and gymnastics also carry a higher degree of risk than other sports.
There can be long-term consequences from ACL injuries. Athletes who injure their ACLs are 10 times more likely to have early degenerative arthritis of the knee. Fortunately, surgeons have a high rate of success with restoring knees after an ACL injury. Ninety percent of surgical ACL repairs are deemed successful by patients, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Coaches and trainers can prevent ACL injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that neuromuscular training can reduce the incidence of ACL tears by 72 percent. When athletes learn how to land appropriately, how to come to sudden stops safely and other muscle education for lower extremities, they have fewer ACL injuries. A good injury prevention program emphasizes stronger hamstrings and core muscles, and improved balance.
For an appointment with an orthopedic or sports medicine physician at IU Health, call 317-944-9400 for adults or 317-274-2500 for children.