Much research has been published in the last five years showing the dramatic increase of children and teens suffering from ACL tears. The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a stabilizing ligament in the knee that connects the thighbone to the shinbone. Unfortunately, once the ACL is torn it does not heal back together. Because the ACL keeps the knee in proper alignment, those without an ACL generally experience instability and are unable to return to high-intensity, pivot-heavy sports. Additionally, without an ACL a patient is more likely to develop arthritis and lose the irreplaceable cartilage that allows the knee to bend and straighten pain-free.
Two major factors have led to a higher incidence of ACL tears among patients age 10-18; the first is the fact that more children are playing contact sports and pivoting sports at a young age such as football, soccer, tennis, and lacrosse among others. The second is the pressure young athletes feel to play at a very competitive level in order to get recruited to colleges and competitive teams.
In a blog post recently published by philly.com, NYC orthopedic surgeon Robert Marx shared some of his thoughts on treating and preventing pediatric ACL tears. For prevention he recommends young athletes should participate in formal or at-home physical therapy to increase the strength and stability of other supporting muscles in the knee. Additionally, participating in more than one sport has been shown to decrease the likelihood of experiencing an ACL tear; by playing different sports an athlete is more likely to gain overall muscle development and is less likely to injure a focused part of the body.
When the unfortunate injury does occur, it is a good idea to schedule a consultation with an experienced orthopedic surgeon who can help formulate a treatment plan based on you or your child’s injury, lifestyle, and preference. If surgery is indicated and performed, it is crucial that a young athlete not return to sports too soon, as it takes a minimum of 8 months for the new ACL to heal into the bone, and playing sports prematurely can cause re-tearing.
Dr. Millstein is a Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon specializing in the treatment of all knee injuries including ACL tears. If you or your child has experienced an ACL tear, or is interested in avoiding one in the future, schedule a consultation today by filling out the form located here.